BlackBerry 10: Why it matters

Here’s the thing: even though I’m a BlackBerry user (I just got a new Bold 9790 a few weeks ago), I’ve been a strong opponent of Research in Motion’s brand for quite some time. But the reason I’ve stuck with them is simply because here, in South Africa, the BlackBerry is so popular, and so economical, that it just makes sense to get one just to keep in touch with the plethora of friends I have on the BBM network. Plus, the BIS internet service is a major draw for a heavy internet user like myself.

But the platform still has its problems. Even though BlackBerry 7.1, the latest version of the operating system powering these smartphones, was released a few months ago, it’s incredibly outdated. It’s a system that has tried to live in the shadow of iOS, and that’s clear in the rough manner in which touch has been slapped onto the interface almost as if it was an afterthought. The BlackBerry OS has become so bloated, and so old, that the only logical way forward for Research in Motion is to simply scrap it, and start-over.

Which is exactly what they’ve done with BlackBerry 10.

It’s fresh, powerful, and a completely new take on the mobile operating system – in fact, on the whole mobile experience. It’s a completely different approach to the now tired and iterative Android and iOS updates. And that’s why I’m really rooting for RIM, and hoping that the BlackBerry manages to regain its strength, even if it is to serve as a true, deadly competitor to Apple and Google in the hopes that those companies will be kicked back into the innovation mode once again.

They’ve done away with the concept of the “application grid”, which can result in having to “nest” very deep into an app, getting lost in the multiple layers, wasting time when you need it the most.

The two main features, then, of the user experience are called BlackBerry Hub and Flow. The Flow relates to the fluid new gestures that you use when accessing the device. Peek is a pretty cool feature that allows you to literally “peek” into parts of the screen. Unlocking the device is particularly nice; as you swipe the finger upwards, parts of the screen get revealed. Swiping completely opens the phone to you.

Intrinsic to the architecture of BlackBerry 10 is The Hub: it runs on top of the platform, and you’re “always in” it. It allows you to see your upcoming events, messages and notifications. The beauty of it is that it’s accessible with a single gesture, with one finger.

Then there’s BBM: perhaps the most important feature of the BlackBerry; the most defining feature. In BB10, this app has been completely redesigned, and it’s all about contacts. The contacts view is now more visual, displaying your friends in a grid format with their avatars. Peek is intrinsic here as well, and it allows you single-finger gestures to access parts of BBM like initiating a conversation.

The “one thumb” approach to the interface, especially with the keyboard, makes BB10 a system that has been built for touch, and built for it in a highly efficient manner. The video below illustrates these points quite well:

BlackBerry 10 is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2013. I’m really looking forward to it; it’s a new take on the mobile phone, and I truly hope it can bring BlackBerry back into the mobile game against Android and iOS.


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