UPDATED: What the new BlackBerry means for B2B publishers
The new BlackBerry smartphone and operating system that Research in Motion (RIM) introduced in August offer important new functionality for B2B publishers serving industries that continue to have a high percentage of BlackBerry users.
Well established as a corporate standard for smartphones, the BlackBerry nevertheless has been losing ground to Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android devices. But yesterday’s BlackBerry Torch announcement could help to stem the tide of defectors. Computerworld’s Barbara Krasnoff commented:
For business users who want something lightweight and practical, but with the multimedia and apps featured in the newest generation of mobile devices, the BlackBerry Torch 9800 could be their next smartphone. The emphasis here is on access to information; because the display is smaller and the resolution less powerful than most consumer devices out there, this can't compete with the more multimedia-centric consumer smartphones. But it should offer enough flexibility and ease-of-use to keep most BlackBerry users from leaving the fold.
For B2B publishers trying to prioritize their mobile investments, the upgraded BlackBerry 6 operating system offers a few key enhancements that could improve users’ content consumption experiences on BlackBerry phones. Cnet’s Jessica Dolcourt was impressed with the new interface:
The interface has been refreshed for devices with touch screens or trackpads. The home screen lets users swipe a ribbon to filter applications and content by five categories (All, Favorites, Media, Downloads, and Frequent). You can also add shortcuts to contacts and favorite Web pages to the home screen. Action Menus, another addition, pop up common tasks when you press and hold with your finger or the trackpad. Multitasking has also gotten a makeover, with a visual grid of running applications popping up when you press and hold the Menu button.
We're most excited by the Universal Search bar on the home screen, which will simultaneously look for keyword matches to your search term in the phone memory, BlackBerry App World application storefront, and the Web.
The new WebKit browser is seen as a big improvement in the Web browsing experience for BlackBerry users. The improvements could convince B2B publishers to redouble their mobile Web efforts, with an emphasis on support for HTML5. From Techland’s Peter Ha:
BlackBerry 6 integrates a new and efficient WebKit-based browser that renders web pages (as well as email) quickly and beautifully for a great browsing experience. It features tabs for accessing multiple sites simultaneously, an auto-wrap text zoom feature that can intelligently wrap text in a column while maintaining the placement of a page's key elements, and pinch to zoom.
Ars Technica’s John Timmer noted that the new BlackBerry makes Web browsing a central experience, with the WebKit-based browser offering “excellent HTML5 compatibility.” He added:
RIM will also let developers create standalone HTML5 apps, which will have full access to the device's services, such as calendar and contact lists, and to the GPS-derived location information.
RIM's app platform offers several key enhancements that could be appealing to content publishers, including a subscription purchasing model and an in-app advertising platform. From PCMag.com’s Lance Ulanoff:
Being able to charge an app purchase to your AT&T account is just what the doctor ordered. RIM's new app building flexibility allows for Java and Web-based apps, with most having full access to the BlackBerry Torch's functions (universal search, multi-tasking, and calendaring). It's a smart move, and it helps put RIM—at least for app development—on a more equal footing with Apple.
RIM is not oblivious to Apple's playbook, and I loved how it quietly introduced an in-app ad program with literally no fanfare. It's simply part of what developers can do. There wasn't any special ad brand name, and there was no mention of revenue share (which doesn't mean it doesn't exist).
Wired’s Eliot van Buskirk also commented on RIM’s efforts to attract more app developers, including the all-important subscription model:
RIM’s strategy for growing its app selection, according to software CTO David Yachs, is to make it easier for customers to find apps and to pay for them. RIM also wants to make it easier for developers to build both native Java apps and web-based, HTML5 apps using the company’s “web-kit platform.”
To solve the problem of how customers will pay for these apps and how developers can hope to make money, RIM is working with AT&T to add a charge to a customer’s AT&T bill. Customers will also be able to pay for apps using Paypal or a standard credit card.
In addition, RIM allows developers to charge subscription fees and offer apps on a “try before you buy” basis. All of those options seem aimed at giving developers more options than Apple does, which controls all iPhone app payments through its iTunes store.
RIM is also said to be working on a new tablet device that could also entice publishers. Bloomberg reported recently that the company plans to announce its new “BlackPad” in November.
The device will have roughly the same dimensions as the iPad, which has a 9.7-inch diagonal screen, said the two people who wouldn’t be identified because the plans haven’t been made public. The device will include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless technology that will allow people to connect to the Internet through their BlackBerry smartphones, the two people said.
So while many observers consider smartphones a two-horse race between the iPhone and Android, BlackBerry is far from throwing in the towel. As BlackBerry developer Research in Motion evolves the hardware, it's also improving its BlackBerry service offerings. In September, the company announced the BlackBerry Advertising Service, which allows BlackBerry developers to integrate advertising into their apps.
These hardware and service enhancements are good news especially for B2B publishers that cater to business audiences where the BlackBerry remains an entrenched corporate standard.