WES 2008

So it's 3:00am Tuesday morning as I type this from my hotel room at the Marriot World Center in Orlando, Florida. I'm pooped and in need of sleep but wanted to bring you all a quick recap of the day's events before catching some zzz's. WES "officially" kicks off in a few hours with the first general starting up at 8:30am, but that doesn't mean there wasn't lots happening on Monday!

First things first, the venue is even bigger than last year. The new wing that was under construction has been completed and WES is taking full advantage of the additional space. I'm not sure of the exact head count, but am guessing the CrackBerrys in attendance should approach or top the 5k mark. For BlackBerry Addicts it's like going to heaven, but for those who haven't experienced the BB lifestyle it looks like a bunch of aliens have descended upon the joint. When I checked into the hotel the helpful Mariott employee remarked how strange it was to see SOOOO many people (as in everybody) walking around with their heads staring down at the floor... apparently that's not a normal ocurrence here for the other 51 weeks of the year. :-)

BlackBerry Bold

No surprise, the big news of WES 2008 is the BlackBerry Bold. A special ballroom has been set up to display the next generation smartphone in all its glory. Inside there are several stations (four if I recall correctly) with several devices at each station setup for individuals to get hands on time with. Each station also has a RIM employee or two present to help answer any questions. This room had a strict no camera/no video policy, and since it was the first night I decided for once not to push the rules too far. Sorry for that. I'll be Bolder tomorrow.

While the BlackBerry Bolds on hand are all pre-release versions, I did make some observations in comparison to the eBay 9000 I reviewed. Most noticeable, the Battery Cover now has a textured leather grain to it (vs. the flat plastic on mine) giving the Bold a classy, rich look. I think it's safe to say the #1 Acccessory for the BlackBerry Bold is going to be replacement battery covers coming in different crazy colors. Because the battery cover really makes up the entire backside of the phone, changing up the cover will really change up the phone's overall appearance.

The OS 4.6 software running on these devices is updated from the version on my eBay 9000. The Red Precision themes were removed from the software, replaced with the blue Precision Zen (as pictured in Review Part IV) and a Precision Silver theme (which looked to be a bit under construction still). I also took note that the Games folder was rocking more than just BrickBreaker. Word Mole, Texas Hold'em, Sudoko, and Klondike were also in there. I forgot to check into whether these will be free games or trials which can then be purchased (will follow up on that tomorrow), but either way its good to see. The last thing I made note of in the changes was the web browser. The browser on hand was more beefed up than the version I was running on my eBay 9000. It's still not the full-out browser that we'll see when the device is ready to ship, but its getting there...well on its way there in fact.

In talking with the RIM employees and group of observers on hand, I made a few observations and clarified a few lingering items:

  • EVERYBODY is excited about the BlackBerry Bold. Every person I saw pick up the device was immediately impressed with the display, the speed, the keyboard, and the overall package. If you read my BlackBerry 9000 Review and thought I was a fan boy... well, you'd be right, but at the same time I can safely say there are going to be a lot of fan boys and fan girls out there for this device. Best BlackBerry Ever. Period.
  • There's still work to be done. RIM is tweaking up the OS on the device at an alarming rate - there's a new OS 4.6 build or two coming out every week. So while what we have seen so far is close, it's still not as good as the final product will be. The web browser is one of the areas being worked on continuously right now... so at this point it's not an item to cast final judgement on. I think when the BlackBerry Bold hits your thumbs, all of us Berry Browser Bashers will be keeping our mouths shut.
  • Target Market? There's been a lot of talk about the target market for the 9000/BlackBerry Bold. The basic confusion to date is that it looks a bit "enterprisey", but has a camera built-in which historically screams consumer device. What it comes down to is that RIM didn't have an enterprise/consumer target in mind with the BlackBerry Bold. The real goal here was to build a high-end device that was the ultimate BlackBerry to date... the BlackBerry on Juice (err..Steroids)... putting WiFi/GPS/3G into one unit with a Speeeedy Processor and some More Memory. So there's no target market persay, but there is an Appeal...and the BlackBerry Bold is going to Appeal to BOTH Enterprise and Consumers. It'll appeal to the Business Executive and it will appeal to us Gadgetolics who just HAVE to have the best device on the market.
  • Release Dates? Well...when it comes to release dates, I still have some digging to do. I've read/heard elsewhere that the 9000 may be out in June, but some of the other grumblings I have heard suggest OS4.5 will get released in the summer (July or August) and the Bold will come shorly after (September). I'd LOVE to see the 9000 hit AT&T next month, but as of this moment I don't *think* that's going to happen. But WES has barely started, so we'll see what the final word I leave with is.
  • Target Price? If you've ever listened to our CrackBerry.com Podcasts, you'll have heard Craig say time again that the carriers have the power (too much power). It's the same situation here. It's apparent that RIM would like to see the BlackBerry Bold carry a reasonable price tag (ie.$350-$400ish), but it will down to an AT&T decision as to what the device ultimately sells for. At this point no final pricing has been determined. I don't think we'll be seeing the rumored $900-$1000 pricetag though. It'll come in at a lot less than that. Pheeeew.

Solution Showcase

After my tour of the BlackBerry Bold, it was onto the Boxtone Lounge to chill for a bit and await the opening of the Solution Showcase. It was awesome to meet up with my WES friends from last year and finally meet some of the BlackBerry characters I have spoken to via email and BBM for a year but have never had a chance to meet in person. We'll be podcasting it up from the BoxTone Lounge tomorrow from 1pm to 2pm, so come by and say hi.

Once the Solution Showcase opened up, it was PURE MAYHEM. Food, Drinks, Entertainment, Tons of People...basically too much to take in all at once. Over the next two days I will make my way through all of vendors in the Showcase and report back with the items I think will be of interest to the CrackBerry audience.

Party Time

Once the Solution Showcase shut down (they literally had to turn off the lights to get me to leave), it was to the hotel lounge where the scene was happening. As you can tell by the time of this post, CrackBerry.com represented and pretty much shut the place down. Stories to come in the forums post-WES. :-)

The GANG Minus CrackBerry Kevin...who's taking the picture

OK, I need some rest. BIG DAY tomorrow. Apologies on any poor grammar / writing / spelling here - I'm too zonked to proofread.