After what feels like an eternity, we’ve finally hit the single-digits — just 9 days remain till BlackBerry 10 is launched, with six simultaneous launch events around the world. If you still need convincing that this is the smartphone platform to look forward to this year, here are my nine reasons to look forward to BlackBerry 10. (Yes, nine. Because nine days to launch. And ten is too mainstream anyways.)
The web browser on BlackBerry 10 is looking extremely good. HTML5 compliance scores are beating not only every mobile browser available today, but even desktop browsers such as the popular Google Chrome — all on pre-release software. And although HTML5 will definitely be the standard moving forward, RIM realizes that it will be a long while before the web can make a full transition. As such, BlackBerry 10 will ship with Adobe Flash 11 support. Speed comparisons with Dev Alpha’s (pre-release hardware) have been outpacing both the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S3. RIM has also added a very small but convenient touch to the browser by placing the URL bar at the bottom of the screen, allowing for easy one-handed use.
The Astonishing Tribe
Any of you who don’t know who The Astonishing Tribe are will probably be puzzled by the very name, let alone the fact that they’re on this list. But those of you who know who TAT are should know exactly what I mean. These guys are fantastic graphics artists with a focus on user interfaces, acquired by RIM during the development of BlackBerry 10. As a result, we’re already seeing a number of small but lovely visual touches on the pre-release software, and I’m sure we’re going to find a lot more once BlackBerry 10 is out and about.
Whenever you “minimize” an app, it will become what is known as an Active Frame. You can think of these as widgets of sorts. They display important information from the app, or if no information is available, they’ll simply display a preview of the app. For instance, if you were to minimize your Calendar app, the Active Frame will show you the next upcoming appointment. If you minimize the Weather app, the Active Frame will show you the weather forecast. These are a great feature that will allow you to reference certain important information, without having to spend time going back into the app and searching for this info.
BlackBerry Balance is a fairly simple and yet very useful feature for those of us who use our phones as work devices. It creates two separate profiles on the phone — Personal and Work. Each profile is entirely separate from each other, with different apps, different permissions depending on your company’s IT policy, different messaging accounts, etc. This will allow you to tune out of work entirely once you’re at home, by simply switching to the Personal profile. It will also allow your employer to enforce their various IT policies without neutering the device for your own personal uses. Now, I admit, this isn’t likely to be a feature I will ever use, and it may even require a BlackBerry Enterprise Server to work (though this hasn’t been confirmed, so don’t quote me on it), but it should be an excellent feature for the enterprise users that have been so faithful to BlackBerry for many years.
Now we get to what BlackBerry’s have really excelled at all along — communication. And the most important component of communication on a smartphone is a good keyboard. Virtual keyboards have long been a pain for me, which is why I’ve stuck to physical keyboards since I first migrated to BlackBerry. However, RIM is here to change that with the excellent virtual keyboard they’ve prepared for BlackBerry 10. It uses SwiftKey technology to provide predictions for the next word you are going to type, but instead of offering these words up in a generic list above the keyboard, the system will work like this — you started typing, say, the letter C. The keyboard will try to guess the word you want, so it could put out “Certainly”, “Can’t”, and “Couldn’t”, for instance. “Certainly” will appear above the letter E, “Can’t” will appear above the letter A, and “Couldn’t” will appear above the letter O — each above the second letter in the word. This means that if you intended to type “Certainly”, logically the next letter you would look at is E. So, if you see the suggestion above the letter, you can simply swipe up, and the device will add it automatically. If that’s not the word you were looking for, you can continue typing, but it will continue trying to guess the word as you add more letters. But perhaps more importantly, the keyboard has maximized all the screen space possible for the letters, and uses heat-mapping technology, in order to ensure that you never hit the wrong letter. There are also frets drawn between each line of letters, in order to help you visually sort them better. As a result, we could be looking at arguably the best virtual keyboard experience in the industry.
The keyboard is important of course, but you need a way of organizing messages to respond to in the first place — that’s where BlackBerry Hub comes in. This is a central inbox of sorts, where you will have literally all your messages — SMS, MMS, email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Rather than having to use each individual app for them, they’ll all be right there for you. But the real piece de resistance of the Hub is the fact that you can access it from absolutely anywhere. Swipe up and to the right from any app, and you’re instantly brought into the Hub. This allows you to check and respond to messages from anywhere, before returning to whatever you were doing previously. Android and iOS have a similar notifications menu when swiping down from the bar at the top, but they have a few key drawbacks compared to Hub. One-handed use is pretty inconvenient because the iOS and Android gesture requires that you swipe down from the top, when your thumb’s natural position will be towards the bottom of the phone. The Hub solves this with a swipe from the bottom of the phone. But perhaps more importantly, the Hub offers you access to any messages, read or unread, while the notifications menus in Android and iOS are designed to display unread notifications. If you ever need to refer back to an old message, Hub will gladly let you do that, but Android and iOS will require that you go back into the app for the respective message.
BlackBerry Flow sounds like a fancy marketing slogan at first sight, and to some extent it probably is. But luckily for us, Flow is also more than that. It’s a fantastic user experience focusing on the various swipe gestures seen in BlackBerry 10, giving the impression that the whole OS “flows”. Although I haven’t been lucky enough to try the devices out for myself, you can really see this Flow in various preview videos, and it looks absolutely excellent. What’s more, Flow also helps with the one-handed usage of devices. The most important gestures and UI components have all been placed at the bottom of the phone, where (as I mentioned previously) your thumb is going to normally be when you’re using the device. Although I’m sure the gestures will take some getting used to for people unfamiliar with the devices, it will be well worth it once you get the hang of it.
BlackBerry 10 is great and all, but good software needs some good hardware to go hand-in-hand with it. That’s precisely what the Z10 is shaping up to be. Although the name still hasn’t been confirmed, the Z10 should be the first device to ship with BlackBerry 10 (it’s the full-touch device you can see at the beginning of this post). The design is very elegant, and according to the rumoured specs, it has plenty of oomph under the hood — a 1.5GHz dual-core CPU, 2GB of RAM, and 4G LTE. That’s a far cry from the 1.2GHz single-core CPU, 768MB of RAM, and HSPA+ currently seen on the Bold 9900, Torch 9810, and Torch 9860.
It’s a Modernized BlackBerry
The number one reason why I’m really looking forward to BlackBerry 10 is this — it’s a modernized BlackBerry. Let’s face it, BlackBerry OS 7 and its respective devices are, objectively-speaking, severely outdated. Yes, my 9810 delivers a pretty lag-free communication experience for my own needs, but as soon as I start to use competitor devices owned by friends, I can see why they’ve all been flocking from BlackBerry — we’ve fallen way behind the competition. The OS isn’t as fluid, as pretty, or as much fun as other devices, not to mention the instability issues that many users experience. Sure, I know how to update my OS to the latest version (regardless of carrier approval) for any performance fixes that may bring, and I know that I need to keep my app usage to a minimum for the best performance, but the average user doesn’t know that. And even if they did, why should they tolerate it? Most people can appreciate the communication advantages of a BlackBerry, but just don’t want to tolerate the disadvantages — and I don’t blame them. BlackBerry 10 is here to change it all. The rock-solid QNX kernel will ensure a stable, efficient OS unlike BlackBerry’s of the past. It will be visually refreshing, and have plenty of nifty little features that I’m sure people will spend ages playing around with. It will have the modern, fun apps that other platforms have had for ages. It will be backed by plenty-sufficient hardware. And it will do all this while still delivering the excellent communication experience that BlackBerry’s of the past have brought to the table. So brace yourselves everyone, because BlackBerry isn’t messing about — they’re very much back in the game.