BlackBerry 10 announced. Does Windows Phone have something to fear?

Today, as expected the company formerly known as RIM has announced the availability of BlackBerry 10.

With two new devices, the Q10 (traditional qwerty phone) and the Z10 (traditional slab touchscreen) and an early global launch including all 4 US carriers by March, the Waterloo company has done an impressive mini-comeback.

The question is, is it enough?

What BB10 has going for it

A fairer media? There’s little doubt that when it comes to positive PR, BlackBerry has it in spades compared to Microsoft. The media so far has been a lot more enthusiastic or even forgiving of BlackBerry 10 when compared to anything Microsoft does these days. Because of this, BlackBerry can expect to ride a wave of positive press coverage as clearly they are the favored under-dog.

Carriers heart RIM. Likewise with carriers. RIM has always had strong carrier relations and the fact that they can launch on all four US carriers in addition to some major players in the UK is testament to that fact, something for which Microsoft struggles. Windows Phone users (especially on Sprint) have to feel the sting quite a bit today: here’s an untested OS and hardware being picked up by Sprint on day 1, meanwhile Windows Phone 8 is coming nearly 8 months after its release.

Legacy. There’s a reason why our sister site is called ‘CrackBerry’. Users of RIM products are a dedicated bunch and they’ve been steadfastly holding on for BB10 for nearly two years now. Microsoft rarely gets so much dedication and Microsoft’s image is often that of a “necessary evil”. Things are changing though for the better since 2012.

Hardware reliability. Say what you will about BlackBerry but much like Palm, their hardware is generally quite good. Not Apple good. Not Nokia good. But better than many Android phones on the market and that bold, almost garish BlackBerry logo emblazoned across the Z10 and Q10 is a reminder that they stand behind their work.

A messy UI with no central focal point

What BB10 has going against it?

Momentum (the other guy’s). Right now Apple and Android are steamrolling back and forth across the mobile landscape, vacuuming up customers left and right. What bits are left over has been going to Microsoft’s Windows Phone with 2012-2013 looking to be a turning point for Redmond and their partners.

But even though Windows Phone has failed to “explode”, its growth is four times what it was a year ago and had has been very steady for quite some time. With compelling hardware like the HTC 8X and bold Lumia 920 (not to mention the in-between ranges) can BlackBerry effectively compete with just two, conservative and perhaps even generic looking devices?

The OS is boring. Yeah, we’re going there. While our friends at CrackBerry are gushing over the new OS and its functionality, we think it’s quite bland. It’s your typical “Icons everywhere” UI that looks very much like iOS, Android and even MeeGo, is nothing to get excited about.

Will it work well? We haven’t had extensive time with it but we’re confident BlackBerry did a good enough job that most users will get things done, but it’s not a game-changing UI but rather another retread. That may have worked 3 years ago but in today’s market you either innovate or move on.

Icon: Been there, done that

No ecosystem or desktop. Bad for enterprise? In reading CrackBerry’s review, you’ll notice the word “desktop” is mentioned twice--once in regards to a browser comparison, the other about BlackBerry Link (desktop management app).

But BlackBerry 10 has no Office in it, no SkyDrive, no OneNote (though they tried with ‘Remember’), no Lync, no GroupMe, no Yammer or no SharePiont. All the apps and services live on the phone with no way to do real time collaboration with people not on your mobile OS.

Sure, Microsoft’s Xbox Video is a mess right now on Windows Phone but at least they have a game plan—three screens and a cloud. The idea that you can purchase Xbox Music and Video and play it on your PC, Mac, TV (Xbox 360) or phone gives people what they want: their media everywhere. How will BlackBerry 10 do that?

Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 are coming closer and closer together. Whether it is SmartGlass or Office or SkyDrive, the two operating systems will allow users to have a desktop, tablet and mobile phone experience that is all similar. BlackBerry cannot compete with that environment and lacks that synergy.

The App Gap. Lots of attention was focused on how many apps BlackBerry 10 is supposedly launching with. Actually, what we heard a lot of were announcements and companies being “committed” to BB10. That’s a bit different than actually having the apps ready. Here are the “big title” apps announced today:

“Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare, Whatsapp, Amazon Kindle, New York Times, The Economist, MLB At Bat, ESPN Scorecenter, CBS Sports, PGA Tour, NHL Gamecenter, SportsTracker, ATP, UFC Cisco Webex, Bloomberg, Evernote, SAP, Citrix, Soundhound, The Weather Channel, BBC Top Gear, eMusic, Slacker, Songza, TuneIn Radio, Paper Camera, Box, DropBox, ooVoo, United Airlines, Delta Airlines,, Flixster, and Stubhub”

Not bad but not amazing either.

There is no Instagram, no Pandora, Amazon Mobile, CNN, USA Today, Groupon, Netflix, LastPass, uTorrent Remote, Audible, eBay, Fandango, UrbanSpoon, Foodspotting, GroupMe, IMDb, YouTube, TripIt, PayPal, MyFitnessPal and we’re guessing a ton more apps that you use on an everyday basis.

In other words, there’s no app advantage for BB10 right now and we’re doubtful it will surpass Windows Phone anytime soon.

And gaming is downright pathetic. Although we’ve been harsh and upfront about Xbox gaming on Windows Phone, it is still in a better long term position than BB10 will be…unless you really thing “Where’s my Water” will edge out our “Where’s my Water”.

Excuse me, Is that an iPhone 5?

Hardware is boring. When compared to the HTC 8X or Nokia Lumia 920, BlackBerry’s new hardware is not exactly that exciting looking. In fact it’s downright generic. Granted, those in business and enterprise may preferred a “toned down” phone compared to a Cyan or California Blue device, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for regular consumers either. What kid will yearn for the Z10?

Fact is, Nokia and HTC are creating some real works of art when it comes to hardware: beautiful and more than functional. Even the entry level Lumia 620 is one looker of a device. Nokia PureView, PureMotion, Beats Audio, Dolby Headphones, ClearBlack display, wireless charging? All neat and useful hardware innovations available on select Windows Phones. BlackBerry 10? Not so much.

Which leads us to…

Is BB10 more pretty than this?

What’s Coming Next. Rumor has it in a few weeks Nokia will announce a new flagship camera phone, possibly sporting a 41MP PureView camera in addition to a new aluminum based body for an updated Lumia look in 2013.

Who doubts that Nokia will continue to out-innovate everyone in the hardware field in both terms of new functions and looks in 2013? BB10 may be all business but Nokia knows style. They also know how to push boundaries.

But we’ll let BlackBerry 10 have its day as they do deserve credit for pulling off new hardware and a new OS. We have a feeling though that on February 25th, the world will see some true next generation hardware on a truly innovative OS.

Further reading:

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.