In case you didn’t know it already, RIM – or better said BlackBerry, as it will known henceforward instead of RIM – on Wednesday held a special media event to introduce to the world its new mobile devices and mobile operating system.
And since we’re definitely interested in what the competition is up to, we’ll show you the main features of BlackBerry 10 (BB 10), a new OS that will have a tough life ahead, battling for third place with Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 in a market where Android and iOS are clear leaders.
In what follows we’ll check out the main features of BB 10, as unveiled on stage by CEO Thorsten Heins and Co.
BB 10 is the future for BlackBerry, a new platform that has been in the works for almost two years and which is ready to take on the latest versions of Android, iOS and Windows Phone. Unfortunately for BlackBerry, the competition has not waited for BB 10 to arrive, and took advantage of the existing and underperforming BlackBerry devices running a not-so-cool BlackBerry OS version to win over the market, with Android being the clear winner when it comes to market share and iOS when it comes to profits.
With BB 10, BlackBerry – boy this rebranding from RIM to BlackBerry is kind of annoying – is attempting to offer various features that the modern man-on-the-go needs, including social integration, security, fast browsing, a great camera and a large collection of apps. But then again, so is everyone else in the business.
We’ll get this one out of the way first. Since it’s BlackBerry, you expect to see a physical full QWERTY keyboard on BlackBerry devices. And you’re partially correct. BB 10 supports full touchscreen devices, but also QWERTY smartphones, and BlackBerry announced today a model of each, the BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen-only handset, which seems to be the company’s flagship, and the BlackBerry Q10, a device that packs a smaller touchscreen display and a regular BlackBerry-like keyboard, reminding us of a certain BlackBerry Bold model.
Obviously, the touchscreen-only model will need a virtual keyboard, which will be similar to the physical BlackBerry keyboard some of you are used to. While we’re at it, before we go into how the virtual keyboard works, you’ll have to know that the Z10 won’t have any other physical buttons to play. It’s all about gestures and virtual buttons.
And since BB 10 comes with a virtual keyboard, you can expect certain smart features from it including word flicking – basically you “flick” words from the keyboard to the screen in what’s described as “writing without typing.” Heins seemed very excited about the BB 10 keyboard:
“We are holding to the promise that we have the best typing experience, on either a physical keyboard or a touchscreen keyboard.“
Before you ask, there’s also voice recognition available to those that don’t feel like typing, even if BB 10 is supposed to make it effortless for them. However, a voice-based assistant such as Google Now or Siri is not available on BB 10 and it’s probably something we’ll see in future BlackBerry OS versions.
With BlackBerry Peek, you can take a peek, literally, to your upcoming activities and unread notifications. Just swipe up from the bottom of the screen and hold to get a bunch of icons that will show you the most important notifications.
With a simple swipe to the right from the BlackBerry Peek, you’re right in the middle of all your notifications, no matter what you were doing before, which means you can always check up on messages, emails, instant messaging, calendar or missed calls while working or enjoying digital content on the device.
On top of email and BBM, the Hub will also house social networking notification, which is only logical considering its name. Users will be able to act on the notifications they receive, from whatever communications medium, from right inside the Hub, without leaving to a dedicated app to perform the appropriate response action.
The Hub responds to gestures only and there’s no need to input commands using physical buttons, with all features being activated “with just your thumb.”
One of the features the BlackBerry execs emphasized on stage is BB 10’s multitasking, which has a name, BlackBerry Flow. And the name describes how the OS should work when the user moves between apps, like from watching a video to checking out notifications. BlackBerry says that the switch is made without glitches, with everything flowing on the screen. Flow seems to be BlackBerry’s response to Android’s Project Butter, and it will be interesting to see how it performs in the wild.
With the Balance feature, BB 10 users will be able to actually split their smartphone into two different gadgets, one for work and one for play without actually owning two devices. That way, work apps will be placed in one Home screen, while apps for leisure will be found in a different location, with users able to switch between them at their convenience.
In case you were wondering, BlackBerry security features are built-in BB 10, and you’re going to enjoy a secure mobile experience whether for work or play.
BlackBerry’s own instant messenger application is available in BB 10 as well, not that we expected anything different from the company. The service has over 60 million active users already, so it makes plenty of sense to see BlackBerry to continue improving it.
In addition to instant messages, BBM will support video calls and simple voice calls, and could become the go-to app for communicating with other BlackBerry owners.
Furthermore, the BBM Screenshare feature will let you share the screen of your handset with the person who’s calling, a procedure that’s done in real time apparently.
BlackBerry Remember is a brand new app that will be available on BB 10 and will help users remember important information. It’s basically a reminder app that lets users flag important tasks, events, travel details, photos, and other data in a single location.
In case this sounds Evernote-ish to you, then you should know that Evernote syncing support is built right into the platform, so if you’re an Evernote user you’ll be able to port all your notes to BlackBerry Remember.
Also touted as an important part of the new BlackBerry environment, the BB 10 camera comes with a Time Shift feature that lets users take multiple pictures and apparently go back in time to select a better photo if the one taken isn’t satisfactory.
A picture editor feature is also available for BB 10 users to retouch taken pictures
In case you feel like getting creative with digital content on your BB 10 device, you’ll be able to use a feature called Story Maker with lets you combine music, photos, captions, videos and effects on the phone to create… well, a slideshow.
BlackBerry said on stage that BB 10 has a very fast browser to offer, without going into it very much. It turns out the browser does come with Flash support, although Flash is turned off by default and you’ll have to enable it if you choose to experience Flash-based content on BB 10 handsets.
Also worth noting is that the browser comes with Bing search integration, by default, not Google.
The BB 10 features that BlackBerry presented of stage are not enough to make the platform interesting without a strong digital content store behind it. Without enough apps, music, videos, books and magazines, a smartphone becomes very dull.
BB 10 devices will have 70,000 apps available from the BlackBerry World store right out-of-the-box, and while the number is meager when compared with the likes of Apple, Google or even Microsoft, it’s certainly a good start. The company mentioned various apps on stage, with plenty of them being already available on the Play Store or App Store including Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Foursquare, Oovoo, LinkedIn MBL.com, Angry Birds Star Wars, JetPack Joyride, Where’s My Perry, Where’s My Water, Rdio, NYT, TuneIn, SoundHound, Box, Reuters, Economist and many others.
And in case you were wondering, you won’t have to restart BB 10 handsets after installing the chosen apps.
The BlackBerry World is where you’ll get access to all these apps, but also other content such as music and movies. BlackBerry is working with all eight major movie studios and record labels, although it’s not clear how many movies and/or music tracks will be available at launch.
The first BB 10 devices should be available at some point in March in the U.S., although actual release dates are not available at this time. BlackBerry is apparently working with 110 carriers worldwide, and it will be “completing lab testing” with them by the end of February, so you can expect BB 10 devices to hit multiple markets soon.
Canadians will be a lot luckier though, as they’ll get access to BB 10 devices on February 5.
Is BB 10 a worthy Android and iOS rival? On paper, the new BlackBerry mobile operating system seems very interesting. It is indeed “redesigned, reengineered and reinvented.” We’ll just have to see whether former BlackBerry users will fall in love with the new platform and the new phones, and whether new customers will be interested to try out BlackBerry’s new OS.
Will you make the jump from Android to BB 10? Or are you waiting for it to be a bit more refined before moving back to BlackBerry?