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RIM shares bounce on BlackBerry 10 optimism

But Flows and Peeks won't sell devices

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The number of BlackBerry users is up slightly, despite the aging OS and hardware, lifting RIM shares that that already been buoyed by previews of the shiny new OS10.

Overall users hit 80 million, up from 78 million earlier this year, resulting in a 3 per cent jump in RIM shares, though that's also thanks to the unveiling of BlackBerry 10. The new OS will be launched next year as the final roll of the dice for the company for whom dominance in enterprise mobility was a given for so long.

BlackBerry 10 is pretty, making extensive use of the "slide on" paradigm which worked so well on the PlayBook. Running apps reduce to tiles capable of displaying their status, and everything can be shuffled aside to peek at the universal inbox (the Hub) without switching applications, offering enough eye candy to stand comparison with the competition.

But a swish interface won't sell devices, it will just make it easier for BlackBerry users in the pub to defend the decision they've made, or the one which was forced on them by their employer.

Which brings us to Balance: probably the most important innovation in BlackBerry 10, and the feature which will make or break RIM's chances next year. Balance separates the user's work and private profiles, allowing them to switch between the two with a tap but combining data from both when it's important to do so.

That means the calendar shows both private and work appointments, immediately solving a problem which plagues all of us as our phone diaries find themselves synchronised with the work cloud. Applications can be installed into either profile, or both, and corporate control can limit private use of work resources (such as restricting the office Wi-Fi to "work" applications).

The systems administrator can also reach out and wipe that Work profile when necessary, while being denied the chance to delete personal apps and data (even if the sysadmin will need a little more ingenuity in future).

Setting aside the bells and whistles, which are necessary but not compelling, RIM's success or failure will come down to the ability of companies to dictate what handsets their employees use. Balance makes BlackBerry much more compelling for companies, ensuing they'll recommend RIM to their employees, but it's far from clear if companies have that kind of power anymore.

RIM has clearly spent a lot of time asking users what they need, in contrast with Apple's approach of telling them what they want and the Android philosophy of throwing stuff at users until something sticks, but that has cost them time. In developing markets, where cheaper devices dominate, BlackBerry use is rising, but getting back into the premium market will be expensive and, unlike Nokia, RIM hasn't got Microsoft bankrolling the attempt.

The new OS is shiny enough to compete, but it will be Balance and enterprise integration which makes or breaks RIM. ®

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