BlackBerry 10 daring to be different

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CNET Editor

Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies. Twitter: @Joseph_Hanlon

The decline of BlackBerry has been well documented over the past two years, from its disintegrating market share and its public change of management to its wide lay-offs and the fact that it has now been 18 months between major product releases. Despite these setbacks, Research In Motion (RIM) has stuck to its guns, and forged ahead in designing a new operating system, something that its CEO Thorsten Heins hopes is recognised as being different.

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins speaking recently at BlackBerry Jam in San Jose.
(Credit: Lynn La/CNET)

"That's why we decided not to go Android or any other platform, because we knew with the QNX platform, with its multi-threaded real-time multitasking capability, that we could [create] a different experience, we could build a different platform that the market is so eagerly waiting for," said Heins.

"For now, it's a duopoly. It's Android, and Android equals Samsung these days, and it's Apple. But consumers want choice, carriers want choice and we'll be providing a pretty good choice in the first-quarter 2013."

This choice for consumers will come in the form of the BlackBerry 10 OS, the new platform and ecosystem that RIM has spent the past few years developing. This work has meant that RIM will not release any new flagship products in 2012, but it has also allowed the company to consider what the competition is doing.

"Five years ago, we all saw Apple introduce this application grid on a touchscreen, and Android used it as well. So when you want an application you hit the application, you do whatever you want to do, then you hit the back button and go to the next application. It's very sequential.

"The big change, the visual change for the user [in BlackBerry 10 OS], besides performance stuff, is the user paradigm, what we call the BlackBerry Flow."

The BlackBerry Flow is classic marketer's speak, describing the new multitasking capabilities in BlackBerry 10 OS. The default home-screen view is a multitasking area where up to eight apps can be running simultaneously. But swipe to the right, and you'll reveal the system's all-in-one communications area, the BlackBerry Hub, where Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn messages (among others) are listed amongst your personal and business email, SMS and MMS. Importantly, this area is completely customisable, and it comes with an open API, so developers can add notifications for third-party applications that will also appear in the Hub, if you want them to.

The Hub is accessible from anywhere in the system with a two-step gesture. Swipe up from the bottom bezel and the current screen minimises, revealing a count of unread messages. While still touching the screen, a swipe to the right drags the current window to the side, revealing the Hub below it. This gesture can be reversed at any time, giving the user the ability to "peek" at the Hub without exiting the current app.

"[The Hub is] not an app; it runs intrinsically on the device, it always runs, you can't switch it off, it's always there for you. So that wherever you are in the device, you can always go back to this Hub," said Heins.

"When we designed BlackBerry 10, what we really thought about how [the iOS UI] is not a flow ...This in-and-out paradigm was attractive when it was introduced, because it was very applications centric, but what users really want is to do what they need to do, without being concerned about which application they are using."

Having had the chance to test drive BlackBerry Flow briefly, the advantages of this system are immediately apparent, especially for users for whom communication is key. Being able to continue dialogues with a number of different contacts over a number of different message platforms, without launching and closing the same number of apps, will be a godsend for some. Being able to glance at incoming messages without interrupting your work in the current app is also a big plus.

But selling Flow will be a tricky task. The first phase of smartphone adoption has well and truly passed, and many of the potential market have now bought into either the iOS or Android ecosystems. BlackBerry 10 OS may be different, but it is going to be an uphill battle for RIM to tell this story in billboard ads and 30-second TV commercials. Unlike many of its competitors, RIM is choosing not to speak in the same language that many of its customers have learned to speak when shopping for smartphones: in megapixels, GHz and GBs.

"We're not in the spec race, we're not like six cylinders are better than four, we're in the experience race; it's got to be fun to drive a BlackBerry, if you want to put it that way," said Heins. "So on the technical side, we put in the horsepower that we need. But, for example, the screen resolution on the BlackBerry 10 device is going to be higher than on iPhone 5: it's 1280x768. Plus, we have a special picture processor in there, the image signal processor, that is a top-notch processor. So from a multimedia perspective, that device is absolutely on par. For browsing, it's a WebKit-based Chrome-like browser, with best performance for HTML5 ... outperforming anything else that is on HTML5."

It will still be several months before we see the final hardware, but if these promises of performance hold true, then the next wave of BlackBerry phones will definitely offer the alternative that Heins believes the market is eager for. Still, toppling the dominance of iOS and Android will take time, even with amazing new software and hardware, but at least the once-great RIM will be back in the race.

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FastA posted a comment   
United Kingdom

"That's why we decided not to go Android or any other platform, because we knew with the QNX platform, with its multi-threaded real-time multitasking capability, that we could [create] a different experience, we could build a different platform that the market is so eagerly waiting for," said Heins



DominicC posted a comment   

"We're not in the spec race, we're not like six cylinders are better than four, we're in the experience race; it's got to be fun to drive a BlackBerry, if you want to put it that way,"

He has earned my respect.

But he still need to deliver :P


trebor83 posted a comment   

I am amused by the way that you all seem to know that BB10 is awesome and everyone will flock back to it, even though it isn't going to be released 3/4 months. From what i have seen so far it looks like some kind of Frankenphone made from sewn together pieces of iOS, Android and Meego which RIM executives have trouble making perform some of its key features, namely 'Peek'.


DaveB1 posted a comment   

The QWERTY board model is launching right after the Touch model, this has been stated clearly many times by Heins. BB 10 is going to be a huge improvement over iOS 6, the difference is so great that Apple will be in some trouble. Imagine, you and millions of others bet your savings on iPhone 5 and start hearing that the phone you bought is now the oldest, most boring of all OS systems out there. The word will get around, it will be embarrassing to look like an iSheep when BB 10 is so cool and works with your car too. QNX is a huge game changer and the media is not capable of dealing with the complex technology. They have become so used to Apple and simple functions, they can't even imagine what it will be like to be able to be far more productive with your time. Businesses have done BYOD, they hate it, too costly and productivity is down, hacking is up, nothing good has become of letting employees tell management what to do. They will trend back to BB, use Mobile Fusion and get back to doing business again.


AnishK posted a comment   

If the above article has to be believed, it is understood that BB phones are gonna come with a touch Screen, but it really does not talking about giving away the Qwerty physical keyboard.
Apart from anything in the market the physical keyboard is the main USP of BB phones.. So I strongly live by the fact the keyboard is not taken out of the picture !


Joseph Hanlon posted a reply   

The QWERTY model for BB10 is definitely still coming. Heins didn't speak about it directly in our interview but it is still a big part of what will make BB different next year.


GarthS1 posted a comment   

Everybody is talking specs, but performance is the issue- you can have the biggest engine in the world but if the transmission is no good you're not going anywhere. With QNX, BLACKBERRY has the most efficient transmission on the market. IOS is boring. Android is just plain dangerous. BlackBerry offers an OS that is fun to use and secure. Both those things will become increasingly important. It is also the easiest and most creative platform to develop for...


SunjayB posted a comment   

I agree, as android user we still need nire mobile o/s on the market. It should not be just about IPhone and Android. I like to see more choice and I am happy to jump ship from Android to try out the other rivals.


SunjayB posted a reply   

Sorry for Typo: should have said we still need MORE mobile o/s

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