People today love their toys. Whether it’s a gorgeous car to cater to a mid-life crisis, a fancy sound system, a high-end TV, or the latest smartphone, we seem to identify the newest, latest, and greatest as the be-all and end-all that will render everything that came before obsolete.
In a corporate environment, however, the same toy-mad folks have to make decisions that can run counter to those desires. For the office, they need to minimize risk and to keep costs under control so the business can survive and prosper. That often means sticking with yesterday’s tech. And that, in turn, can incite rebellion among the gadget-obsessed masses who want to have wonderful shiny goodies in their pockets and purses.
At the same time, users want features that help them do their jobs. That’s why the elderly BlackBerry Bold, and the Torch, and even the Curve, may still have to be pried from the cold, dead hands of their dedicated users – the devices may be old, slow and clunky, but their integration with enterprise services, their security and their keyboards still have no equal.
When BlackBerry launched its new Classic smartphone, it was aiming straight at those trying to solve this corporate conundrum. The Classic offers the form factor corporate customers are used to, with the keyboard and controls they know and love, but with newer technology to address complaints about the speed and functionality of the aging original models. On the plane coming home from the Classic launch event, I showed my review unit to my seatmate, who carried a Bold. He coveted a Classic immediately, especially after I told him about the improvements under the hood. It felt familiar in his hand, the keyboard, complete with shortcuts, performed as expected, yet the Classic is faster, and has an updated operating system and a browser that is actually usable for browsing.
The hardware specs, while not the most modern of modern, are better than the Bold: a 3.5 inch touchscreen, 2 GB memory and 16 GB storage, plus a microSD slot that can add up to 128 GB additional storage. There's a full complement of sensors, including accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope, proximity, hall sensor, and ambient light sensor, and an equally full complement of connectivity options (WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and Near Field Communications, in addition to cellular). Battery life is touted as 50 percent better than that of the Bold; in real use, I go several days between charges. That's critical for business users who need to get through a day's work without having to hunt for a plug.
The hardware wraps around a shiny new operating system that improves productivity. BlackBerry 10's Hub, a unified inbox that gathers together and manages email, social networks, and all kinds of messaging, lets user securely cope with both business and personal communications without cross-contamination. Documents to Go software allows users to open and edit Microsoft Office documents, and BBM Protected provides secure business messaging. The simple voice commands from the Bold have matured into a full-fledged voice assistant. Unlike those in competitive devices, the assistant doesn't have a name, or even much personality, but it's very efficient, allowing users to make calls, send messages, add appointments, search the device, or search the Internet using natural language commands. Or, if it's a bad time to talk, users can type the same requests.
All that made him smile; the bonus to him was that, being a BlackBerry, with all of its built-in security and manageability, the Classic would be acceptable to his company’s IT and security folks.
He also loved the sound of BlackBerry Blend, a new addition to BlackBerry OS 10.2 and higher. Blend allows users to reflect messaging and content that's on their BlackBerry on their Windows and Mac desktops and iPad and Android tablets. They can leave the phone in pocket or purse, and still get instant notifications, read and respond to work and personal messages, and access documents, calendar, contacts and media in real time, from in the Blend app on their computer screen. Yet as soon as they disconnect from Blend, all of the secure content accessed via the BlackBerry disappears from computer or tablet, allowing the use of personal devices for corporate tasks without creating a security risk.
He’s the target market for the Classic: someone who needs to get his job done, but who can still appreciate an updated device that knows how to play as well as work. The Classic can manage a WebEx meeting, or play the whimsical short film The Cat Came Back in the National Film Board’s app, with equal aplomb. The improved 8 megapixel rear camera can shoot photos of properties for a real estate agent to post on the web, along with detailed descriptions typed on the keyboard, or can shoot pictures of the kids for a parent to send to doting relatives, as well as capturing 1080p video (the more modest front 2 mp camera is suitable for things like video calls or selfies). And the Amazon app store provides access to Android apps that can be installed as easily as native BlackBerry apps, addressing in part user complaints that there are insufficient native apps.
It’s a difficult balance for any product, be it hardware or software; corporate and personal needs and wants tend to be diametrically opposite. It’s doubly difficult to produce balance in something that’s on the user’s person most of the time. If my seatmate’s reaction is indicative, BlackBerry has pretty much nailed it with the Classic.