Don't you hate it when the finish line keeps getting moved? For the past 18 months, reports of BlackBerry's demise have been widespread, accompanied by the requisite rumors of an acquisition. Now that the new BlackBerry 10 smartphones are here and positive reviews are plentiful, the refrain has switched to: "Yeah, but BlackBerry can't overtake Apple and Android."
Let's take a deep breath, remember that No. 3 is still a medal position, and allow a nanosecond of celebration that with this week's launch, the company formerly known as Research In Motion has reentered the race. The mood should be dour only in Redmond.
One disappointment was that the BlackBerry Z10, immediately available in the United Kingdom, won't debut in the United States until March. BlackBerrys, so recently the butt of cracks about outmoded technology, now have consumers grumbling about delays. It calls to mind an old joke: "The food is terrible and the portions are too small." The fact that the BlackBerry has seemingly gone overnight from old-fogey device to sleek, stylish smartphone is not a transformation to sniff at.
Still, I have to agree with Tony Bradley at PC World that one of the biggest obstacles to restoring the BlackBerry brand lies with "the cultural shift in corporate America.... The entrenched BlackBerry infrastructure in the business world is one of the main reasons the company hasn't already faded completely into oblivion."
Whether BlackBerry can cling to that corporate toehold in the new BYOD era remains an important question, especially since the new BlackBerrys can't be managed by that old BlackBerry infrastructure -- IT will need a new version of BES to maintain its historic level of control on the new devices, which moves BlackBerry from easy-to-maintain legacy to a platform that will require significant new investment. A survey this week showing iPhones and Androids in the office yield higher profits and happier employees underscores the challenge BlackBerry will face in getting that investment.
In BlackBerry's favor, security has long been a top reason why enterprises were slow to drop the BlackBerry, and the newest OS builds on that strength. As Galen Gruman points out in his hands-on review, a "very welcome change to BlackBerry OS is its support of EAS (Exchange ActiveSync) security policies such as requiring encryption and passwords. The previous BlackBerry OS protected devices only if a company invested in the BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server)."
It's also worth noting what BlackBerry didn't get wrong with this launch. David Pogue of the New York Times confesses that he was once among those foretelling the doom of BlackBerry. But his initial impressions of BlackBerry 10 border on rhapsodic. He writes that not only is the BlackBerry Z10 "lovely, fast, and efficient, bristling with fresh, useful ideas," it's complete.
The iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone all entered life missing important features. Not this one; BlackBerry couldn't risk building a lifeboat with leaks. So it's all here: a well-stocked app store, a music and movie store, Mac and Windows software for loading files, speech recognition, turn-by-turn navigation, parental controls, copy and paste, Find My Phone (with remote-control lock and erase), and on and on. The hardware is all here, too. The BlackBerry's 4.2-inch screen is even sharper than the iPhone's vaunted Retina display (356 pixels per inch versus 326). Both front and back cameras can film in high definition (1080p back, 720p front).
At the end of the day, regardless of whether users find the BlackBerry Z10's new word-recognition typing system "mind-bogglingly clever" as Pogue did, or "painful," "difficult," and "barely legible" as per InfoWorld's Gruman, BlackBerry has scored a big win with this week's announcement. Tech people are talking about its smartphones, and once the devices are in stores, people won't be embarrassed to be seen trying them out. (While waiting for that day, you can check out the video of a hands-on demo below.)
The company stands to win a bronze medal, and Microsoft faces the prospect of going home empty-handed.
This article, "BlackBerry 10: Back in medal contention," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.