Samsung launch and the fall and rise of BlackBerry


Today Samsung has launched its Galaxy S4. It's slightly taller, has a better screen and processor and the battery is much larger. The interface promises to be more intuitive and it even has a touch of science fiction in that it includes a translator for nine languages.

We don't have pricing yet but it'll be on par with currently pricing, I would imagine, and in the year ahead we'll see millions of them sell to people all around the world.

But much like the iPhone 5 before it, the era of the big surprise has passed, at least for now. The phones are iterative versions of what's gone before. Strictly speaking the Galaxy 4 should be termed the 3.1 - it's not a wheels-up redesign, and why would it be? The Galaxy SIII is the most popular selling handset Samsung has and it's the phone responsible for taking on Apple in its heartland.

We've reached a critical point in the lifecycle of the smartphone. The design has moved from buttons to touch screen, the format has gone from included clients to the user-chosen app model. The last great surprise of this smartphone regime was probably the iPhone 4 with its move from sculpted plastic to a slab hewn from pure technology itself. All since then has been expected, signaled, even telegraphed in advance.

There's nothing wrong with this, just as there's nothing wrong with the new Samsung phone. It's a natural phase in the tech cycle and it will take someone else to come along with a new format to really surprise us again. Possibly it'll be Apple when it finally decides not to build any more iPhones and opts for a new monicker and style, possibly it'll be Google with its Glass approach. Whatever it is, it'll need to be quite different, quite stand out to surprise us.

---

What of the last great ruler of the smartphone market? What of BlackBerry?

I had a BlackBerry for many years. A BlackBerry Pearl - mostly because it had gorgeous voice quality and I could do radio interviews on it, but also for its size, its functionality and its long battery life. Sure, it had a browser that was designed by someone who'd never seen the internet, but it was a solid, capable business phone.

That was really BlackBerry's problem. It was a business device that had, in the US market at least, bled out into the consumer market in lieu of competition. With nothing else coming close in terms of capability, BlackBerry took the world by storm and grew into a multi-billion dollar business.

I remember the first BlackBerry on the market. It looked like a label printer and had about as much functionality, but the nice BlackBerry chap I met (of course, he was from RIM before the name change) told me the design was its best feature. In his world the BlackBerry was a success because of how well it was designed, not because it was the only phone on which you could readily and easily access your email. He couldn't quite understand why I barked with laughter at that and was most offended when I told him what I thought of BlackBerry's design, but to my mind the BlackBerry was so popular precisely because it had no competition. It was, and always would be, a business phone not a consumer phone. When Apple ate its market in one gulp, BlackBerry had no comeback and has been in a kind of death spiral ever since.

I waited with something approaching horror for the announcement that it would be dumping its operating system and would no doubt announce it was taking up Windows Mobile, as Nokia did before it, but instead it made a different announcement, one that's been lost in all the noise.

BlackBerry bought QNX, a company that makes embedded systems, and will use that as the basis for its BlackBerry 10 phone. While yet another smartphone OS is nothing to write home about, QNX gives BlackBerry a leg up in a very interesting market - that of embedded mobile systems.

We talk a lot about the Internet of Things and how 50 billion devices will connect to the internet, dwarfing the number of people online by a long chalk.

If BlackBerry plays its cards right, it could become the lead OS in the new embedded systems world. Cars, home security, air conditioning, refrigeration, irrigation, you name it, it'll need a chip that can communicate with the outside world. All that is there for the picking and we're sure to see a landgrab for the hearts and minds of our embedded brethren. We may yet see BlackBerry rise from the ashes.