BlackBerry’s release of the latest version of its mobile phone operating system (and next-generation phone hardware) lacked the wow factor. While existing BlackBerry customers may be delighted, there is little there to make anyone want to trade in his or her Android, iOS or Windows Phone device for a shiny new BlackBerry.

While BlackBerry was losing market share to Apple, Google and Microsoft (who leapfrogged BlackBerry with applications, cameras, touch-screens and more), Research in Motion (soon to be renamed BlackBerry) slipped to No. 5 in the hardware portion of the market, which Apple and Samsung are fighting over. As of late January, when BlackBerry 10 was announced, RIM had a paltry 4.5% of the device market, and was fifth, also trailing Nokia and HTC. Finally, in this world of BYOD, it also has lost its niche as the “mobile device of the enterprise.”

Microsoft’s phones run the Office suite of applications, making them a great choice for enterprises, and Apple and Google are remarkable consumer devices, with the lion’s share of applications available.

So how can BlackBerry get back in the game? It clearly has looked at the others’ playbooks to find its strategy: cater to developers to create a huge market of applications for the device.

As Dave Smith pointed out in his article on BlackBerry, {} BlackBerry 10 gives developers choices around SDKs. That is good. The more choices it provides, the more developers it can entice to create new apps for the platform, or to migrate existing ones.

BlackBerry offers a native SDK (which is its recommended way of making apps), but also embraces Web standards and Adobe tools for applications. The company clearly hopes developers will migrate their existing Android apps to the platform.

That’s all fine and good, but BlackBerry is going to have to do better if it wants more than to simply languish at the bottom of the device pond. Everything it announced at its launch seems merely to get them close to even with the rest of the field, and that simply is not enough to get people who love their smartphones to switch.

Certainly, Wall Street investors were not impressed. While the stock, trading at little more than US$13 a share as of this writing, is significantly higher than its 52-week low, it is trending downward. Analysts are bearish. Worse, with a market cap of $7.41 billion (by comparison, Apple’s market cap is $418.88 billion, roughly 56x greater), BlackBerry will be hard-pressed to compete.
When BlackBerry phones first hit the market, they stole it from Palm. It now finds itself precariously close to suffering the same fate as Palm.

BlackBerry, if it wants to remain a relevant player, needs to find its wow.

Perceptual computing could change perceptions
It’s actually a bit silly when you think about it: Everyone has a camera in their laptop these days, and even more are embedded into phones and tablets. With all these cameras around, why aren’t they being used in some sort of new interface paradigm?

With the help of Intel and Creative Labs, they will be soon. The concept of perceptual computing is one that’s been waiting quietly in the wings for years. Why are we still touching and pointing and clicking with our computers, when they can already see us?

Perceptual computing could be a breath of fresh air for everyone who uses a computer. Rather than sitting on the couch with a remote control, for example, users could wave their hands back and forth to choose between videos to watch. This is already implemented in Microsoft’s Kinect gaming platform.

But it’s a sad truth of our industry that new interface paradigms are rare, and when they do come along, they tend to be ignored, or left exclusively to the realm of video games.

Perceptual computing could change all of that. Because this new paradigm is based on in-device cameras being slightly upgraded, it’s not a ridiculous proposal. It’s something that could, conceivably, be enabled by standard equipment in every new PC.

One user group that this type of computing can be especially helpful for is the disabled, who could use facial movements to interact more intuitively with their computers. This could be a boon to computing for people with disabilities.

The major downside, of course, is that new hardware requirements—better cameras, new Intel processors—most likely will drive PC costs higher.

Frankly, we like the idea of perceptual computing. We are in favor of more ways to interact with a computer, provided the new method of interaction is easy to develop for, and offers a useful new way to compute. Perceptual may be the right vision for the this future.