Tag Archives: blackberry

Blackberry KEYone launches: but we have moved on from keyboard phones

First up at Mobile World Congress is the launch of TCL’s Blackberry smartphone. TCL is a Chinese manufacturer with headquarters in Hong Kong, and has licensed the Blackberry brand. TCL also markets smartphones under its own name and as Alcatel OneTouch.


The KEYone runs Android 7.1 “Nougat” but with a couple of distinctive features. The most obvious is the full QWERTY keyboard, though this one has extra features including gesture support, flick typing (suggested words appear as you type with one-key shortcuts), and the ability to make up to 52 keyboard shortcuts to launch applications. The spacebar doubles as a fingerprint sensor.

The other special feature is hardware-based security, based on Blackberry root of trust technology. There is also a DTEK app which monitors security and adds malware protection.

TCL says it is “the world’s most secure Android experience” though note that alternatives like Samsung’s Knox technology are also hardware based.

None of the other mainstream smartphones have physical QWERTY keyboards though. However there may be a good reason for that. I am a fan of keyboards; I am a touch typist and the keyboard is one of the things which ties me to laptops or external keyboards; I can do without a mouse, but a keyboard is hard to live without.

That said, thumb-size QWERTY keyboards miss the point somewhat, in that you cannot touch type. I suggest also that the advent of swipe-style predictive keyboards has largely removed whatever advantage these little keyboards once had. Swiping only works on a touch keyboard, and is now very effective.

The downside of a real keyboard is that you get a smaller screen.

Still, there will be some users who find a physical keyboard reassuringly familiar and the shortcut feature could be useful.

The KEYone will be available from April 2017 at around €599/£499/$549.

Quick hardware specs:

  • 4.5-inch display (1620×1080 resolution/434 PPI )
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chipset with Adreno 506 GPU.
  • 3505 mAh battery
  • 12MP rear camera with Sony IMX378 sensor.
  • 8MP front camera with fixed focus and 84-degree wide angle lens.
  • 3GB RAM and 32GB storage
  • Micro SD slot

More information here.

As BlackBerry stumbles, there are now three mobile platforms that matter

Today has been tumultuous for BlackBerry. Investment company Fairfax Financial, BlackBerry’s biggest shareholder, was intending to buy the company for US $4.7bn, but that deal fell through, apparently because of failure to attract other investors to what seemed a risky endeavour. Instead, Fairfax and other investors will invest US $1bn of new money into BlackBerry. CEO Thorsten Heins is to step down, and John S Chen, formerly CEO of Sybase, will take on the CEO role. Here is what Chen says:

BlackBerry is an iconic brand with enormous potential – but it’s going to take time, discipline and tough decisions to reclaim our success.  I look forward to leading BlackBerry in its turnaround and business model transformation for the benefit of all of its constituencies, including its customers, shareholders and employees.

Note the key phrase here: business model transformation. What does that mean? Presumably, that the company cannot no longer be primarily a supplier of mobile devices, but will attempt to build a new business based on mobile device management, mobile security, messaging, or who knows what.

It is relatively easy to explain why BlackBerry, whose dire financials released at the end of September triggered the crisis changes, got into trouble. Like Nokia, it found that a strong position in mobile phones had suddenly become a weak position, thanks to competition from Apple and then Android. The iPhone was not just a better mobile phone, but one that changed the computing landscape. I am not going to reiterate why, but think design, think apps, think usability, think mobile computing in place of smart phones. BlackBerry was not prepared for this, nor was Nokia, nor was Microsoft.

In October 2010 I wrote about which mobile platforms will fail. This was my list of current mobile platforms:

  • Apple iOS
  • Google Android
  • Samsung Bada
  • MeeGo
  • BlackBerry Tablet OS (QNX)
  • HP/Palm WebOS
  • Symbian
  • Windows Phone 7 and successors

Today, Samsung Bada, MeeGo, WebOS, Symbian and now BlackBerry 10 are gone or all-but gone. There are now three mobile platforms that matter:

  • Apple iOS
  • Google Android
  • Windows Phone

I realise that many have written off Windows Phone as a contender, but I include it because it is actually growing its market share, and because it is the future of Windows. Desktop and mobile versions of Windows will merge, and while Microsoft has challenges in this market, for sure it is not dead yet.

We should also at least nod to Amazon which is building its Kindle platform, based on Android but an Amazon platform, and will likely introduce a mobile phone at some point; and to Mozilla for Firefox OS; and to Samsung which is making efforts to meld Android into more of its own OS thus fracturing the platform, and to Chinese vendors like Xiaomi who are doing some of the same.

Why has BlackBerry 10 failed? Reviews have been mixed, but it is as far as I can tell a decent mobile OS, and the underling QNX embedded operating system was a good choice given that the company decided against Android.

However today you need not just a nice mobile platform but an ecosystem of huge scale. BlackBerry 10 may objectively have be better initial effort at a new mobile platform than Windows Phone 7 was, in a parallel situation, but it is even later, and lacks the backing of a deep-pocketed company content to lose money for years in the hope of eventually establishing its viability. BlackBerry also lacks the wider ecosystem that surrounds the other three platforms.

While no doubt the strategy adopted by Heins could have been improved, it was more that the task was too great, than that the execution was poor.

Windows Phone 8 enterprise security versus Blackberry 10 Balance and Samsung Knox

How good is Windows Phone 8 security? Actually, pretty good. The key features are described here [pdf]:

  • Trusted Boot prevents booting to an alternative operating system, using the UEFI secure boot standard.
  • Only signed operating system components and apps can run.
  • App sandboxing:

    No communication channels exist between apps on the phone other than through the cloud. Apps are isolated from each other and cannot access memory used or data stored by other applications, including the keyboard cache.

  • Private internal app distribution by businesses who register with Microsoft
  • Password policies set through Exchange ActiveSync (EAS)
  • Built-in device management client
  • Bitlocker encryption when set by EAS RequireDeviceEncryption policy. AES 128 encryption linked to UEFI Trusted Boot.
  • SD card data is not encrypted, but the OS only allows media files to be stored on SD cards.
  • Information Rights Management can prevent documents being edited, printed, or text copied (other than tricks like photographing the screen).
  • Remote Wipe

The security features in Windows Phone 8 are largely based on those in full Windows, since the core operating system is the same. However, devices are more secure since they are not afflicted by the legacy which makes desktop Windows hard to lock down without damaging usability.

While the above sounds good, note that in most cases a simple PIN will get you access to everything. On the other hand, unless the PIN is seen it is not all that insecure, since you can set policies that lock or wipe the phone after a few wrong attempts.

Does Microsoft therefore have a good story versus Blackberry 10 Balance and Samsung Knox, both of which feature secure containers that isolate business apps and data from personal? The approach is different. In Windows Phone the focus is on the whole device, whereas the other two have the concept of segmentation, letting users do what they like (including installation of games and so on) in one segment, while the business gets to control the other.

Windows Phone does in fact have a somewhat similar feature aimed at children. Kids Corner lets you create a "fun" segment containing specified apps and games, sandboxed from the main operating system. While this is currently designed for children borrowing your phone, you can see how it could be adapted to create a personal/business split if Microsoft chose to do so.

For the time being though, you might worry about the potential for users to install a malicious app or game that manages to exploit a bug in Windows Phone and compromise security.

Even if the business can lock down the device so that users cannot install apps, this impairs the user experience to the extent that most users will want another phone for personal use. The attraction of the Blackberry and Samsung approach is the way it combines user freedom with business security.

Is Microsoft doing a good job of articulating the enterprise features of Windows Phone 8? That is a hard question to answer; but my observation is that Nokia, the main Windows Phone vendor, seems to focus more on consumer features like the camera and music, or general features like maps and turn by turn navigation. Enterprise features are hardly mentioned on the Nokia stand here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, while Microsoft does not have a stand at all. On the other hand, you would think that the company’s strong partner ecosystem would be effective in communicating the presence of these features to enterprises.

Power shifts at Mobile World Congress: Samsung rises, Apple absent, Google hidden, Microsoft missing

Mobile World Congress, now under way in Barcelona, is a big event. Exact numbers are not available, but I have heard talk of 70,000 trade attendees; it is not something you can safely ignore if you have a presence in the mobile industry.


Nevertheless Apple chooses to ignore it, preferring its own exclusive events. This is a strategy that has worked in the past, but this year it may be less clever. Several have said to me that Apple is falling behind, being too slow to innovate its iOS device family. Of course many here are using Apple devices, but the momentum for now is elsewhere, though one magical announcement could change that any time.

Samsung on the other hand has the biggest stand here (actually several stands) and is everywhere. The underlying story is how Samsung is moving on from being an Android device vendor and focusing on Samsung-specific features. In the consumer world that means hooks into Samsung TVs or its new HomeSync media box with a Terabyte of storage, intended to be the place for all your music and video, as well as enabling Android games in your living room.

The bigger Samsung news though is its enterprise offering, called Knox, which creates a secure, encrypted container on your Samsung smartphone or tablet exclusively for business use. IT admins have full control over access and app deployment. This is the same approach used by Blackberry with the Balance feature in its new Blackberry 10 devices. Knox is implemented by third-parties, and links with Active Directory, making this an attractive proposition for businesses getting to grips with the challenge of mobile device management.

Crucially, Knox works only with Samsung devices. It is based on a secure edition of Linux and includes a hardware element so that other device vendors cannot implement Knox, though they could create their own similar system.

Blackberry on the other hand has not taken a stand at this event. Instead, it has parked itself in a hotel across the road, which its staff informally call Blackberry Towers. The symbolism is unfortunate. Last year it had a big stand; this year it is out of the mainstream. Blackberry’s new devices look good but its key business selling point is Balance, which means it will not be happy about Samsung’s Knox.

Microsoft is a puzzle, as is not uncommon for the company. Via Windows Phone it is a premier sponsor (which I imagine means a ton of cost) but does not have a stand. Windows Phone is mainly represented by Nokia, though it can be glimpsed elsewhere such as on the HTC stand. This is a company that wants to convince us that it is a serious force in mobile? Windows 8 is meant to be a new start on tablets; so where is Surface RT or Surface Pro?

I also wonder if the company has left it too late to establish Windows Phone as the best choice for secure mobility. I have been talking to Centrify here at Mobile World Congress, one of the third-parties implementing Knox solutions. Everything in a Centrify Knox deployment is controlled by Active Directory, and it forms an elegant and secure option for enterprises who want to give employees the freedom of a personal device combined with the security and manageability of a mobile device. I also saw how app developers can query Active Directory attributes on Knox Android devices just as they would with a Windows application.

So where is Microsoft with its enterprise smartphone story? It has all the pieces, including Active Directory itself, Bitlocker for device encryption, and System Center for management, but it has not yet assembled them for Windows Phone.

At least it is better than last year when it ran embarrassing "smoked by Windows Phone" demos.

Google is another puzzle. Last year a huge stand and a hall dedicated to Android; this year, nothing. Android may have won the mobile OS wars, but do initiatives like Knox show how Google is failing to reap the benefits? Possibly. It does seem to me that Google is now engaged in differentiating its own products and services from what you might call generic Android; and its absence from Mobile World Congress is likely part of that effort.

Last minute offer: attend BlackBerry Jam Europe in Amsterdam for half price or even free

At the end of January RIM is launching BlackBerry 10 in a now-or-never moment for the company. The new smartphone, based on the QNX embedded operating system, has distinctive features that just might win it a foothold in a crowded market dominated by Apple iOS and Google Android.


If you are developing for BlackBerry or thinking of doing so, it is worth attending one of RIMs developer events, and coming up in a couple of weeks is BlackBerry Jam Europe, which I imagine will be buzzing thanks to the launch of new devices. The event is in Amsterdam and runs on 5th-6th February.

The normal cost for new attendees is €300 but if you use the following code you can register for half price:


This is limited to 20 registrations so be quick! I am not sure if it also works on the alumni registration offer price but it is worth a try.

If even that is a stretch, we also have a pair of free passes to give away. Email me tim (at) itwriting . com today 23 Jan with a paragraph on “Why bother with BlackBerry” and the best entry gets the code at the end of today. Only condition is that you give permission to have your comments posted here.

Mobile: Windows Phone appeal growing, iOS and Android secure say Titanium developers

Appcelerator and IDC have released their latest mobile developer report, in which nearly 3,000 users of the cross-platform development tool Titanium report on their views and intentions.

These reports are always interesting but experience suggests that they are poor predictors. A year ago, the Q4 2011 report told us:

Amazon’s new Kindle Fire ignites developer interest. When surveyed among 15 Android tablets, the lowcost, content-rich eReader was second only to the Samsung Galaxy Tab globally in developer interest. A regional breakdown shows Amazon edging Samsung in North America for the top slot. At 49% very interested in North America, the Kindle Fire is just 4 points less than interest in the iPad (53%) prior to its launch in April 2010.

Now, the Q4 2012 report says:

Amazon’s Kindle continues to struggle for developers’ interest. With less than 22% of mobile application developers “very interested” in building mobile apps for the device, the Kindle just barely breaks into developers’ top 10 app targets.

This is one example; a glance back through previous editions shows plenty of others, showing that developers struggle as much as the rest of us when it comes to guessing the value of future markets.

The report is still useful as a snapshot of how things look now, for cross-platform mobile developers. One question which is always asked, and therefore can be compared easily from one report to another, is the proportion of developers who are “very interested” in developing for each platform.


The top 5 contenders here are relatively stable, with Apple iOS top (iPhone and iPad), Android next (phone and tablet), and HTML5 Mobile Web also strong at about 65%.

The lower ranges are more interesting, as developers change their minds about prospects for the minority players. Windows Phone dived to around 22% in August 2012 but grew strongly to 36% in this report. Windows tablets, which we should probably take to mean the new Windows 8 app platform, is about the same. BlackBerry has declined from over 40% in March 2010 to 9% today, though I would suggest this will inevitably increase in the next report which will be after the launch of BlackBerry 10.

What else is interesting? One thing is Apple “fragmentation”. The problem here is that Apple iOS now has six screen sizes, once you add iPad mini and iPhone and iPad with or without high-res Retina displays. This gives me pause for thought. The challenge of mobile apps is now closer to that of desktop apps, where you do not know what display will be used or how users will choose to  size the application window. Intelligent layout and scaling is key.

Apple is also increasingly awkward to work with:

More generally, 90% of developers believe that Apple has become more difficult, or about the same, to deal with over the past three years when it comes to application
submission, fragmentation, and monetization.

Part of the report concerns Microsoft Surface. This focus is puzzling, in that it is the Windows 8 app platform which really matters, rather than Surface itself. Another oddity is the questions put, with no option to say “Surface is great”. The most positive option was:

It is a nice piece of hardware, but Windows 8 needs a lot more than that to be successful

A rather obvious statement which apparently won the agreement of 36% of developers.

The report gets even sillier when it comes to market disruption:

The top three companies that developers perceive to be ripe for disruption are a veritable who’s-who of the biggest tech darlings

say Appcelerator and IDC. It is true; but the figures are tiny:

Microsoft (8% of respondents), Google (7% of respondents), and Facebook (7% of respondents).

In other words, over 90% of developers believe these three companies are not likely to be disrupted soon; a figure that strikes me as conservative, especially for Microsoft.

More impressive is that over 60% of developers believe Facebook will lose out in future to a mobile-first social startup. This was also true last time round; 66% in Q3 2012 and 62% in Q4 2012.

The length of time it took Facebook to release just a single native iOS app, coupled with the fact that a corresponding native Android app is still MIA, has proven that the company does not yet have a viable cross-platform mobile strategy.

say Appcelerator and IDC. A fair point; but Facebook’s primary asset is its network of relationships rather than its software and it is not easy to disrupt. I would also guess that disruption is more likely to come from Google as it promotes Google+ and builds it more aggressively, perhaps, into Android, along with apps for iOS and other platforms as needed, than from a startup. But like the developers in this survey, I am guessing.

RIM BlackBerry 10 SDK is now gold


BlackBerry 10 developers can now download the release version of the various SDKs.



There are three primary SDKs: native C/C++, Cascades which includes a C++ app and user interface framework, and WebWorks for HTML5 and JavaScript.

If that is not enough, there is also an Adobe AIR SDK, and a Java SDK which is compatible with the Android Runtime.

RIM has made a huge effort to attract developers to its new platform, though how it will fare versus iOS, Android, and a somewhat reinvigorated Windows Phone is open to speculation.

BlackBerry 10: key dates for developers announced, $10,000 incentive dangled

RIM has announced key dates for developers in the run up to launch on January 30 2013.

The schedule looks like this:

  • November 29: SDK update
  • December 11: Gold SDK available
  • January 21: Deadline for app submission to qualify for the $10,000 giveaway
  • January 30: BlackBerry 10 Launch

Following the release of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 this month, RIM’s BlackBerry 10 is next up in the category of smartphone platforms trying not to drown in the Android and iOS tide (more Android than iOS of late).

RIM’s strategy includes an element of “if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em”. The company is offering a $10,000 guarantee to developers who achieve at least $1000 revenue from their BlackBerry 10 app in the first year.


There are terms of conditions, of course, including the performance, design, security and usefulness of the app.

It will be fascinating to see if RIM is successful in this attempt to fill its store at launch with high quality apps – something Microsoft failed to do for the Windows 8 App Store.

The offer is a no-brainer for developers who already intended to make a commercial app for BlackBerry 10. For others it is a nice incentive but perhaps not the easy money that it first appears, presuming no cheating of course. The majority of apps do not achieve even $1000 revenue. Creating an app that is good enough to do so, without that costing so much that the $10,000 loses its significance, is not trivial.

BlackBerry 10: QNX multitasking goodness

I attended the London BlackBerry Jam, one of around 500 developers (the event was sold out) who showed up to learn about developing for Blackberry 10 and in the hope of snagging a prototype of RIM’s next smartphone, the BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha. The event is part of a tour of 26 cities worldwide. I also spoke to Vivek Bhardwaj, Head of Software Portfolio EMEA for RIM. Does BlackBerry 10 have what it takes to  compete against Apple iPhone and Google Android?

A few quick observations. The event was split into native and web tracks, with the native track focusing on  C/C++ development and the Cascades UI framework, and the web track covering WebWorks, the HTML 5 developer tools which you can use to target mobiles as far back as BlackBerry 5, or to create apps that share code between BlackBerry and other mobile platforms.

There was also a tour of various mobile JavaScript libraries. One that caught my attention was Zepto.js, which implements most of the jQuery API in just 8.4k of compressed code, around 25% of the size of jQuery. The trade-off, aside from some missing features, is lack of support for Internet Explorer, though support for IE 10 is under consideration. Thought-provoking: the price of legacy platforms?

It turned out that the device Bhardwaj was holding, though pretty much the same hardware as the Dev Alpha giveaway, was more revealing as a glimpse of the next-generation BlackBerry. The Dev Alpha, which has an impressive 1280 x 768 screen, comes with no applications other than the web browser and its user interface is pretty much that of the PlayBook. Bhardwaj’s demo device on the other hand is a complete early version of BlackBerry 10 though there were parts that he would not demonstrate. I went to compose an email and he said, “we are not ready to show that yet.”


So what is distinctive about BlackBerry 10? One of its key features is multitasking, thanks to the processor scheduling capabilities of QNX, the embedded operating system which underlies both PlayBook and BlackBerry 10. According to Bhardwaj, this enables up to 8 apps to run at once. “Applications all run simultaneously. We don’t need to pause them,” he said. “It’s much more about flow.”

Although apps do run full screen, you can take advantage of the multitasking by “peeking” at a background app. This means holding your finger towards the corner of an app and dragging it left to see a little of what is underneath. In the pic below this is another image.


Talking to developers at the event I picked up considerable enthusiasm for BlackBerry 10, though compatibility is a headache. If your customer asks you to support all versions of BlackBerry back to the 5.0 series, you are stuck with WebWorks and the pre-WebKit browser in 5.0. If you can convince your customer to forget 5.0, then you can develop for WebKit. If you want to use Cascades then you are restricted to PlayBook and BlackBerry 10.

BlackBerry 10 also supports Adobe AIR, for Flash-based apps, and an Android runtime for repackaged Android apps.

The prototype BlackBerry 10 phone looks good, but as a brand new platform is it sufficiently exciting to revive RIM’s fortunes? “I don’t believe that in a trillion-dollar plus industry there can only be two players. I think there is more than enough space for four or five platforms. It’s very short-sighted if we think there can only be three ecosystems,” said Bhardwaj.  

Which online storage service? SkyDrive is best value but lacks cool factor

This week both Microsoft and Google got their act together and released Dropbox-like applications for their online storage services, SkyDrive and Google Drive respectively.

Why has Dropbox been winning in this space? Fantastic convenience. Just save a file into the Dropbox folder on your PC or Mac, and it syncs everywhere, including iOS and Android mobiles. No official Windows Phone 7 client yet; but nothing is perfect.

Now both SkyDrive and the new Google Drive are equally convenient, though with variations in platform support. Apple iCloud is also worth a mention, since it syncs across iOS and Mac devices. So too is Box, though I doubt either Box or Dropbox enjoyed the recent launches from the big guys.

How do they compare? Here is a quick look at the pros and cons. First, pricing per month:

  Free 25GB 50GB
Apple iCloud 5GB $3.33 $8.33
Box 5GB $9.99 $19.99
Dropbox 2GB   $9.99
Google Drive 5GB $2.49 $4.99 (100GB)
Microsoft SkyDrive 7GB $0.83

and then platform support:

  Web Android Black
iOS Linux Mac Windows Windows
Apple iCloud X X X Limited X
Box X X
Dropbox X
Google Drive X X X
Microsoft SkyDrive X X X

Before you say it though, this is not really about price and it is hard to compare like with like – though it is obvious that SkyDrive wins on cost. Note also that existing SkyDrive users have a free upgrade to 25GB if they move quickly.

A few quick notes on the differences between these services:

Apple iCloud is not exposed as cloud storage as such. Rather, this is an API built into iOS and the latest OS X. Well behaved applications are expected to use storage in a way that supports the iCloud service. Apple’s service takes care of synchronisation across devices. Apple’s own apps such as iWork support iCloud. The advantage is that users barely need to think about it; synchronisation just happens – too much so for some tastes, since you may end up spraying your documents all over and trusting them to iCloud without realising it. As you might expect from Apple, cross-platform support is poor.

Box is the most expensive service, though it has a corporate focus that will appeal to businesses. For example, you can set expiration dates for shared content. Enterprise plans include Active Directory and LDAP support. There are numerous additional apps which use the Box service. With Box, as with Dropbox, there is an argument that since you are using a company dedicated to cross-platform online storage, you are less vulnerable to major changes in your service caused by a change of policy by one of the giants. Then again, will these specialists survive now that the big guns are all in?

Dropbox deserves credit for showing the others how to do it, Apple iCloud aside. Excellent integration on Mac and Windows, and excellent apps on the supported mobile platforms. It has attracted huge numbers of free users though, raising questions about its business model, and its security record is not the best. One of the problems for all these services is that even 2GB of data is actually a lot, unless you get into space-devouring things like multimedia files or system backups. This means that many will never pay to upgrade.

Google Drive presents as a folder in Windows and on the Mac, but it is as much an extension of Google Apps, the online office suite, as it is a storage service. This can introduce friction. Documents in Google Apps appear there, with extensions like .gdoc and .gsheet, and if you double-click them they open in your web browser. Offline editing is not supported. Still, you do not have to use Google Apps with Google Drive. Another issue is that Google may trawl your data to personalise your advertising and so on, which is uncomfortable – though when it comes to paid-for or educational services, Google says:

Note that there is no ad-related scanning or processing in Google Apps for Education or Business with ads disabled

Google Drive can be upgraded to 16TB, which is a factor if you want huge capacity online; but by this stage you should be looking at specialist services like Amazon S3 and others.

Microsoft SkyDrive is also to some extent an adjunct to its online applications. Save an Office 2010 document in SkyDrive, and you can edit it online using Office Web Apps. Office Web Apps have frustrations, but the advantage is that the document format is the same on the web as it is on the desktop, so you can also edit it freely offline. A snag with SkyDrive is lack of an Android client, other than the browser.


There are many more differences between these services than I have described. Simply though, if you use a particular platform or application such as Apple, Google Apps or Microsoft Office, it makes sense to choose the service that aligns with it. If you want generic storage and do not care who provides it, SkyDrive is best value and I am surprised this has not been more widely observed in reports on the new launches.

One of Microsoft’s problems is that is perceived as an old-model company wedded to the desktop, and lacks the cool factor associated with Apple, Google and more recent arrivals like Dropbox.