After all, the BlackBerry brand is nowhere as strong as it used to be, and the company is facing extinction in the mobile market at the hands of Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS and even Microsoft’s Windows Phone. BlackBerry 10 is intended to be their answer to these competitors, a modern OS with modern smartphones that will continue BlackBerry’s strengths – a focus on security, business and messaging – while bringing the rest of their platform up to snuff.
The first big announcement was that the company is changing its very name to match its most well known product. From now on, Research in Motion (RIM) is now just called BlackBerry. For years I had trouble with this distinction, as BlackBerry was the only thing that RIM produced, and I always had to correct myself when I referred to BlackBerry as the manufacturer instead of the brand name. Now, that distinction isn’t upheld and now I get a weird double correction, where I naturally say BlackBerry, trade it for RIM and then go back to BlackBerry. It’s a big move for the company, and it underscores how much of a revolution BlackBerry is making within their own company.
The next announcement will be of rather more interest – the two new handsets that BlackBerry revealed as their first ‘reborn’ smartphones. We have the touch-only Z10 and the keyboard-equipped Q10. The Z10 is the one that has already launched, while the Q10 will be out in April. Both sport a 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor, 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of internal storage augmented via up to 32 GB of microSD.
Size & Dimensions
While the Z10 has a 4.2″ 1280 x 768 display, the Q10 makes do with a smaller 720 x 720 display that’s a 3.1″ square to make room for that hardware keyboard. Both phones have a boring look but a nice feel, with the Z10 having a grilled back and the Q10 having a glass weave material back.
The two phones also launched with a raft of accessories – we’ve seen clip-on Bluetooth speakers, an innovative battery charger and a beautiful Smart Cover-like BlackBerry Z10 case.
Overall, this is some modern hardware that approximates what’s available in mid-range Android phones or Windows Phones – not bad at all.
Both phones run the new BlackBerry 10 operating system. The new OS is geared around a combined notification and inbox system called BlackBerry hub. While other OSs have virtual notifications that then link to some piece of incoming content – whether that be a text, an email or a Twitter mention – in BlackBerry 10 OS, the notification is the incoming content. It’s a bit of a confusing model and doesn’t allow for any dismissal of notifications to look at later, but it’s intriguing nonetheless.
The next interesting thing about the BlackBerry 10 OS is that it is based entirely on gestures. A swipe from left to right shows the BlackBerry Hub, a swipe from the bottom up allows you to do multi-tasking. It’s all quite fluid, with a particular emphasis on being able to operate the whole thing with one thumb. Clearly, the size of the screen at 4.2″ plays into that. While you couldn’t just hand someone the new BlackBerry have them intuitively understand what they were meant to do, it’s easily enough explained and is an interesting alternative to what we see from Android and iOS. I’m just not sure if a button-free phone is what anyone is really clamouring out for, but I guess we’ll see how the new OS is handled by the teens and business people that make up BlackBerry’s core audience.
Finally, the new OS has that same focus on messaging and security that it always has. The new software keyboard is perhaps the best on any mobile device, with easy options for swiping between letters, excellent prediction capabilities and gesture support for swapping to capitals or symbols with a swipe. BlackBerry Messenger has been updated with video calling and screen sharing (and can do the two simultaneously). There’s even something called Balance, which allows Home and Work sections of the phone to exist in their own sandboxes, with a quick tap allowing a switch from one to another. This is the area where BlackBerry will really have to own in the mobile space, and they’ve made a good first try of it here.
So will BlackBerry be successful out of the gate? The intial reports are quite good, with the Z10 being the biggest BlackBerry launch in the UK by a good margin and many stores selling out immediately in Canada. A more substantial test will be when the phone launches in the USA in March, but already BlackBerry have proven that they aren’t dead yet. With the Q10 and its hardware keyboard still yet to come, BlackBerry have started strong on the long road to mobile relevance.