It took two hours for three BlackBerry executives to announce four items: a routine software update, a new low-end qwerty smartphone aimed at overseas markets, a new feature for BlackBerry Messenger, and Messenger's extension to iOS and Android.
Some of the most enthusiastic applause was for BlackBerry's "creative director," the singer Alicia Keys, who appeared onstage at the annual BlackBerry Live user conference in Orlando. She announced the BlackBerry Scholars program, aimed at women in accredited technical and science programs with a focus on mobile computing.
Most of the rest of the time was devoted to talking about the new senior executives hired by BlackBerry CEO Thorstein Heins over the past 12 months, a rehash of the January launch of BlackBerry 10 and of the first two phones to run it, a recycled Consumer Electronics Show demonstration of a "concept car" with a built-in infotainment hub, and a numbingly detailed explanation by Chief Marketing Officer Frank Boulben of his marketing strategy and why it has been successful.
Separately, the company announced two changes for its enterprise software products. First is a new release of BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10, Version 10.1, which has a number of new features:
- several new policy settings and controls to restrict the use of a corporately owned BlackBerry 10 smartphone for work only
- simplified server installation for managing a mixed population of BlackBerry 10, legacy BlackBerry OS, iOS and Android devices; and for upgrading to Version 10.1 from the previous BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5
- new graphical views of information and statistics on employees' mobile devices, such as summaries of devices by OS and carrier, their degree of compliance and downloaded applications
- a high-availability configuration where an active BES 10 server can be paired with a passive server that waits on standby in case the active server fails
The second enterprise announcement is BlackBerry Enterprise Instant Messenger (IM) 3.0, which now creates an encrypted end-to-end link to protect BlackBerry 10 smartphones connecting through Microsoft Lync, Microsoft Office Communication Server or IBM Lotus Sametime. The client app on the smartphone, working with BES 10, supports presence, one-to-one and multi-party IM, and can switch between text chat and a voice call.
Heins repeatedly stressed that BlackBerry, with its new operating system, is focused on creating a "platform" that will both enable and adapt to the still-evolving world of mobile work and play. But there was little new information about these ambitions, except for the announcement of the third Blackberry 10 smartphone.
The new BlackBerry Q5 smartphone is the first product extension of the platform. With it, BlackBerry is reaching into the low-priced end of the market, though Heins said nothing about the final price or even a price range for the new phone. The Q5 appears to be simply a cheaper version of the Q10, with a 3.1-inch diagonal color touch screen and full qwerty keyboard. Buyers will have a choice of red, white, black or pink. No other specs were announced.
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