For months, Research In Motion executives have predicted that BlackBerry 10—the next-generation mobile operating system that’s basically the company’s Hail Mary pass for relevancy—will arrive in early 2013.
But according to one analyst, the actual launch will likely take place on the far side of that timeframe. “We had hoped for a January launch but now see a March launch as more likely,” Jefferies & Co. analyst Peter Misek wrote in a research note subsequently posted in part on Forbes. “Also, our checks point to a tough November quarter, with replenishment rates decreasing as channel partners are cautious on holding RIM inventory. We think the business uncertainty means parties are unlikely to acquire or license from RIM until BB10 launches.”
Licensing BlackBerry 10 to third-party manufacturers, he added, could mean the difference between success and failure for RIM: “We still believe a third ecosystem… will emerge, but the probability of BB10 filling the role is wholly dependent on whether RIM can convince Samsung, Huawei, and ZTE to license.” Apple’s iOS and Google Android currently dominate the smartphone market, with Microsoft anxious to claim third place with its Windows Phone franchise.
RIM is betting pretty much everything on the BlackBerry 10 OS and its accompanying hardware, which RIM CEO Thorsten Heins told The Telegraph will “see us through the next ten years.” However, that hasn’t stopped RIM’s share of the smartphone market from a steady slide: the latest data from StatCounter gives BlackBerry OS some 4.71 percent of the global mobile operating system market, far behind Google Android at 28.01 percent and Apple’s iOS at 24.5 percent. That’s quite a tumble from the days when RIM’s BlackBerry devices were synonymous with mobile communications.
Until RIM can launch its next-generation smartphone platform, it’s dependent on an aging portfolio of hardware and software headed by the BlackBerry 7 OS. BlackBerry 10 isn’t just an iterative upgrade but a radical revamp of the “traditional” BlackBerry user interface: the home-screen includes “Active Frames,” similar in form and functionality to Windows Phone’s tiles, and the interface depends largely on swiping and gestures as opposed to tapping buttons (the latter is similar, at least in broad strokes, to the QNX-based operating system powering RIM’s PlayBook tablet).
But will a shiny new interface, a host of next-generation apps, and (possible) OS licensing deals with other manufacturers help RIM crawl back from the brink? That question is doubtlessly keeping a lot of executives in Canada awake long into the night. And if Misek is right, the world could end up waiting just a bit longer to find out the answer to that question.