After years of reporting on the demise of "Made in Canada" BlackBerry devices, industry analysts were convinced that the company rebrand and introduction of next generation handsets would be a failure — and it should have been, for no other reason than they said so. Their predictions of doom and gloom are usually pretty effective because a lot of people read them and decide they must be right, and don't take a chance on whatever technology or concept they've pre-decided won't work. People aren't supposed to hear, "Blackberry will fail!" over and over for years and then decide to go out and buy a Blackberry.
But they did and they are. In huge numbers. The Z10 (all touchscreen) and Q10 (part touchscreen, half keyboard) have been well reviewed, and while the consensus was that these phones were a bit late to the party, people love them. People, against all odds, are thinking for themselves.
While it's too early to say that the company — rebranded as BlackBerry instead of Research in Motion — has been saved, the Ontario company posted a profit of $94 million in the last quarter on revenues of $2.68 billion, which is a huge turnaround considering the company lost $125 million in the same period last year.
BlackBerry's subscriber base is continuing to shrink, but not by that much — and with both new phones available everywhere by the end of April it's reasonable to expect that it could start to grow once again.
I've had the opportunity to play with the Z10 and I can say that it's a great phone — it's light, the screen is amazing, the store has everything you could want, the native apps for music, video and so on are great, the apps and operating system are solid, the camera is very good, the browser is the best available (Flash support) and BlackBerry's key strength — the notification hub and consolidation of email and social networking into a single hub — is as strong as ever. The decision to use touch gestures for everything also works well, though there is a short learning curve.
At the very least it's fair to say you're not sacrificing anything by getting a BlackBerry, and that you can weigh these new phones equally with other handsets on the market.
My expectation is that the Q10 will be a huge seller in the U.S. when it comes out, it's a serious productivity tool and every businessman is going to want one — and many will have no choice because right now nobody comes close to BlackBerry when it comes to security.
For now, though, it's nice to know that this Canadian company is off the ropes and back in the fight — and gratifying to see the pundits' predictions blowing up in their faces.
As for the suggestion that the smart phone industry is weakened by having more operating systems available, consider that Samsung is developing its own Linux-based OS (shying away from Android), while Mozilla is working on an HTML 5 (Firefox OS) for phones. Instead of Apple and Android, the market will soon have Apple, Android, BlackBerry (BB10), Windows Phone, Samsung, Firefox, WebOS (it still exists), and other Linux-based varieties. Choice is a good thing.
The most important game ever?
I've been too busy trying to level up in Halo 4 to play much else recently, but the game that seems to be on everyone's list this year is Bioshock Infinite, a kind of first person prequel to the incredible Bioshock series that takes place in 1912 in the floating city of Columbia — a religious, secessionist paradise where a subclass of races performs all the hard labour.
The game has the usual guns and Bioshock-like super powers, but there are some unique elements as well — a Skyline system that links the floating islands of the city, a female companion who stays out of your way (and who you actually come to care about) and a story with incredible depth, design, vision and production value (graphics, voice acting, everything) that transcends the medium. This is an important game, maybe the most important game to date, and the best example of gaming's new focus on narrative. It will be talked about for years.
Like the first two Bioshock games, the central themes revolve around religion, exceptionalism, fascism, objectivism (Ayn Rand's ludicrous philosophy), the purity and goodness of industry, and the corrupting influence of power.
In the opening scene of the first Bioshock, we're greeted by a giant statue of Andrew Ryan, the founder of an underwater utopia, and a banner that reads "No Gods or Kings. Only Man."
In Bioshock Infinite, the hero is asked, "Booker, are you afraid of God?" To which he replies, "No. I'm afraid of you."
It's both creepy and incredible, setting the tone for a battle over your mortal soul — on a battle ground that is an idealized America that so-called patriots have always dreamed of but has never existed. Weighty topics for a game, but handled so deftly you'll have lots to think about in the hours you're not playing.
Reviewers have been pegging this game somewhere between a perfect 10 and an 8.5. I'm getting it. You probably should too.