Gumdrops. Lollipops. Candy canes. Rainbows. Jelly beans. Rays of sunshine. The carnival. Unrestrained joy and happiness.
What do these things have to do with BlackBerry phones?
A whole lot, according to RIM design chief Todd Wood, who described the future of the device in a recent interview with Pocket-lint. Try to hold your laughter:
Giving us a glimpse at what is to come, Wood tells us where the latest design workshop for 2012s models was held. This time, rather than the classic scenery of Italy, the design workshop session was in Malmo, Sweden. The latest words for the experience? “Charming, whimsical, and fun” according to Wood, suggesting a very different direction from the company.
Wood, whose official title is Senior Vice President of Industrial Design, comes off as level-headed and realistic about the company's future here. If a "charming, whimsical, and fun" BlackBerry seems about as likely and likable as Alan Greenspan in clown makeup performing a winsome magic show for children, don't worry: Wood acknowledges how insane it seems to associate the preeminent Office-DronePhone with anything besides cubicle-bound drudgery.
“Five years ago, when I started," Wood told Pocket-lint. "BlackBerry was all about pure utility. But people really like beautiful things."
Charming. Whimsical. Fun. BlackBerry?
I suggest a slight amendment to the Wood quote above: People really like beautiful things that also have great utility, as well as greatly useful things that are beautiful. This is the key to the success of the iPhone and popular smartphones by both HTC and Samsung. While writing emails on a physical BlackBerry keyboard is still much easier than tapping on a touchscreen, many have been willing to trade the typing time lag for the aesthetic advantages of more attractive, more impressive-looking smartphones.
The exodus from RIM has continued (and continued, and continued) as the Canadian company has struggled to both keep its networks working well and produce a phone that excites customers.
Until now. BlackBerry, you see, just had one of its best P.R. weeks in a long, long time. Both its stock price (for a couple days, at least) and its network were up, and a purported image of its future savior-phone has people enthusiastic about BlackBerry hardware for the first time in years.
BlackBerry Becomes Relevant Again
When was the last time anyone not in the BlackBerry communications department wrote anything positive about BlackBerry? It seems like that's about to change. While Apple deals with battery problems on multiple devices, Android defends itself from patent vultures and Windows Phone struggles to find market share, sentiment surrounding the number three mobile OS in America is finally generating positive buzz. Aside from reiterating its commitment to its inimitably good physical keyboards (smart move), a photo of its upcoming phone was leaked to tech site The Verge, and a gadget-fetishizing tech world drew in its breath.
Boy Genius Report says that this sleek, keyboard-less device is the BlackBerry London, and that it will be released in Q3 of 2012. If RIM is still a company in Q3 of 2012 -- just kidding, sort of -- the BlackBerry London looks like it will be a winner, based on its appearance and its ability to spark excitement alone.
Wood and his team have created a terrific-looking phone that, for once, is generating hugely positive word-of-mouth and a little bit of saliva. (It reminds me, strangely, of the much-envied Golden Gun in the N64 James Bond Goldeneye game of old; that's a good thing.) Though the BlackBerry London is neither charming nor whimsical in the proper sense, it is at least a head-turner from a company that does not have a history of designing head-turners. It is an un-iPhone in an industry that often seems obsessed with replicating the iPhone; it is an un-BlackBerry, in the best possible way, from a handset manufacturer that until now seemed lethally committed to its spartan, utilitarian designs.
It is easy (VERY easy) to mock Research In Motion for even suggesting it is capable of producing a new type of device, but the photos that the Verge leaked, ladies and gentlemen, represent -- well, a paradigm shift. This phone is the bee's knees, design-wise.
The London, provided that its software and cell reception aren't total embarrassments, could prove to be a game-changer for a company that, in terms of smartphone design, has remained stuck in the mid 2000s for some time. While the enterprise may remain satisfied with traditional, productivity-boosting, incrementally-improved BlackBerry products like the BlackBerry Bold and BlackBerry Curve, it seems clear that BlackBerry's tepid touchscreen offerings (the Torch, for example) fall short in terms of both innovation and appeal to customers.
The BlackBerry London is not gumdrops or lollipops or rainbows everywhere, but if it represents the design path that BlackBerry will take under Wood, then the phone is a positive sign that the stagnant stink-cloud that has enveloped and stained the embattled brand is lifting. If RIM can keep its networks up, it will position itself as a worthy competitor to the Apples and Samsungs and HTCs of the world, and a company that can unironically say that it is capable of having some fun.
It is your move, Todd Wood. The world eagerly awaits the BlackBerry UnicornSmile.