The Blackberry 10 event on January 30th represented a rebirth in function and in name. Research in Motion is no more, being replaced by simply Blackberry. Most people referred to the company this way regardless, so there isn’t a big change there. What has obviously changed, is the direction of the company.
This wasn’t typical boring RIM. This was a new entity entirely. Bold, confident, and refined in its presentation. Given the amount of turmoil surrounding Blackberry over the past few years, this seems surprising, but from chaos often comes progress. After being left behind by Android, iOS and even Windows Phone, Blackberry was forced to start over from scratch. The fruits of that new start are intriguing at the least. Will that intrigue and interest translate into success?
Things are a bit different than they were at the start of the Blackberry decline. Mobile device users aren’t just choosing between pieces of hardware. Buying a phone today means buying into a particular ecosystem. Purchasing an Android or iOS device means having access to hundreds of thousands of apps, with the guarantee that more will always be coming down the pipeline. Blackberry can boast no such thing, having been left in the dust during the recent turbulent times. With this fresh start, Blackberry hopes to reverse the tides a bit.
The main theme of the event was the idea of “flow.” The phrase was used several times during the presentation. Over and over again it was hammered home that Blackberry 10 will help you get between applications and files without having to go in and out of home screens or specialized control panels.
Blackberry CEO Thorston Heins repeatedly referred to the fact that Blackberry 10 offers full multitasking where other mobile operating systems use a combination of frozen app states and intelligent background operations to simulate multitasking. On Blackberry 10, apps run in the background while you float in and out of the phones other functions. Say you’re watching a video. Slide your thumb up and to the right (sort of a lower case r shape) and the video slides to the side to reveal your messaging hub. The video never stops playing in the background. This in comparison to Android, which would pause the video in the event that you went to the home screen. One has to wonder what effect this has on battery life, especially if there is a large amount of background data being downloaded over power hungry LTE.
A quick gesture upward from the bottom of the screen reveals the app switcher/home screen, which tiles the 8 most recently used applications. It’s like a hybrid of Android’s task switcher and the Live Tiles from Windows Phone. Some of these tiles also act similarly to Android’s widgets giving useful information (like Weather). This gesture can be activated from within any screen on the device, eliminating the need for a home button. In most apps going backwards is as simple as swiping to the left, also eliminating the need for back buttons. There is something beautiful about a phone that is basically all screen, with no buttons interrupting the aesthetics of the device.
Watching Blackberry 10 in action is a breath of fresh air. It seems to resurrect the best parts of the beloved, but now dead WebOS. An experienced user could certainly fly through the OS with little trouble. It’s something that has to be seen to be fully understood.
The biggest hurdle for Blackberry will be overcoming the late start in the app market. Will developers make top tier applications available for the platform? Will mid-level developers find it worthwhile to bring apps to parity with iOS and Android versions?
Windows Phone has had a great deal of trouble gaining traction in the marketplace, partially because of the lack of app parity compared to the big two. The launch event did show some heavy hitter apps such as Angry Birds, Skype and Amazon Kindle, but glaring in their absence were apps like Netflix, Spotify and Instagram.
One could make the case that for core Blackberry users, all that matters is the email and messaging experience. Still, there are users who have already switched off the platform that would need an incredible amount of convincing to go back. A robust selection of apps is part of that convincing argument.
This event was touted as a start to a new era, rather than a finish. If the goal was to get off on positive footing, the company formerly known as RIM can mark this as a success. Hopefully this is the start of the renaissance Blackberry faithful have waited so long for.
In the next article, I talk about a feature that no other smartphone on the market can duplicate. This could be the feature that puts Blackberry 10 on top with corporate clients: Blackberry Balance.