Cutting Room: has the wait for BlackBerry 10 been worth it?


Paul Withers managed to get his hands on the much-delayed BlackBerry 10 operating system, and analyses weather it will have the desired impact for RIM

With falling revenues, service outages, mass redundancies and even being partially blamed by some for the UK riots, it’s fair to say the past 18 months have not been kind to BlackBerry manufacturer RIM.

In fact, scrolling through the 2011-2012 Mobile News archives, it is hard to find a single positive headline associated with the firm.

Its hopes – and indeed its future, if you believe what many analysts are suggesting – lie with the success of its BB10 operating system.

But even this has attracted criticism – having originally been slated for Q2 of this year, it was delayed until this current quarter before being pushed back again until January. A number of reports last week suggested it has been postponed even further, as far back as next March.

These delays and the intense competition in the OS market mean it is even more imperative that RIM ‘wows’ the world with BB10.

First look
I was fortunate enough to be given a demonstration of what BB10 can do, albeit on a ‘Dev Alpha B’ – basically a shell unit that has been handed out to app developers.

The key phrase used by RIM during the demonstration was “Peek and Flow”, which is the name of a new feature the manufacturer says “reinvigorates the touch experience”. Put simply, it involves flowing between different screens and accessing various applications with a single swipe.

For Android, iOS and Windows users this may seem like a basic feature, but for RIM it is a significant departure.

Indeed touch is now a key feature of the device, unlike the Bold 9900 with its touchscreen that provided virtually no extra benefit over a keyboard.

To wake the BB10 phone, you just swipe your finger across the screen and you’re presented with the homescreen.

The old rows of icons have been replaced with four live screens – BB Messenger, weather, browser and email. It effectively means you can check for all the activity and updates you need by looking at a single screen.

Other menus and applications can be accessed by swiping across the screen using the same method as with Android and iOS.

And unlike previous BlackBerry devices, you can have multiple applications running in the background at the same time – eight in total.

Swiping upwards from the bottom of the screen brings up your most recent emails, texts and social networking alerts –similar to the feature on the Bold handsets but less fiddly.

The calendar has also been overhauled to include more information on attendees and other nice features such as shortcuts to web pages to learn more about the company they work for.

Business / consumer
BB10 will also include what RIM calls ‘BlackBerry Balance’ which enables users to separate personal and business content on the device, something the manufacturer says will help it appeal to customers and companies looking to introduce bring your own device (BYOD) working practices.

There will be two completely different sets of applications on the handset, and what sits on one side cannot be transferred to the other.

The business side of the device can be controlled by your company’s IT administrator. For example, they may limit your access to the BlackBerry App World, or you may be blocked from playing games or accessing social networking sites.

Typing on a BB10 device has also been given an interesting twist. The handset I saw had a virtual on-screen keypad, and not the physical T9 layout that is normally associated with BlackBerry smartphones.

Here the keypad customises itself to fit the user. As you send more messages – whether they are from your personal or business account – it builds up a vocabulary and so becomes quicker at predicting words.

Do or die
In truth, I didn’t expect much going into this meeting. RIM has failed to impress me for years now and I have never regretted my decision to switch to Android.

Nevertheless, my opinion of RIM has now changed – for the better. I was impressed by what I saw – both visually and with regard to usability – because BB10 is a total contrast to what people might have experienced with BlackBerry 7.

RIM says it will continue to produce BB7 devices, for those who may fear change, for the foreseeable future. But for the majority of users, BB10 will be a breath of fresh air, and could give those looking at handsets from media darlings such as Samsung and Apple something to think about.

RIM can’t afford to get this wrong. Customers waiting for BB10 will not accept another false start or more promises of a BB11 utopia should BB10 fall flat. The continued delays suggest RIM has made every effort to ensure everything is ready from the off.

Of course, RIM will need to produce handsets that are just as impressive in order to match the capabilities of BB10 – there is no point having a great OS if you haven’t got the hardware to support it.

Many diehard BlackBerry users – and there are 80 million of them let’s not forget – will have waited nearly a year for a new BlackBerry release. On first viewing, the wait could be worth it.