BlackBerry 10 essentials: What you need to know

BlackBerry 10 essentials: What you need to know

Summary: The launch of RIM's new BlackBerry 10 handsets and operating system is just around the corner; here's what you need to know.


The introduction of Blackberry 10 is crucial to RIM's ability to compete with Android and iOS devices as well as woo back enterprise customers.

BlackBerry 10 app screen
BlackBerry 10 is a major departure for RIM, and a fresh start.
(Credit: Ben Woods)

What's so important about BlackBerry 10?

RIM has lost ground to Android devices and Apple's all-conquering iPhone on the consumer side, and as IT departments are no longer making the call about which smartphones make it into the enterprise (thanks to the rise of bring your own device) RIM has seen its vice-like grip on the business market greatly loosened, too. BlackBerry 10 is RIM's chance to prove it is still relevant.

What's new about BlackBerry 10?

BlackBerry 10 is RIM's newest operating system, and unlike previous generations of BlackBerry OS it is based on a Unix-like platform called QNX. It features an all-new UI and home screen with live tiles more akin to Windows Phone 8 than BlackBerry 7.

RIM's new UI is based around concepts it calls Hub, Peek and Flow.

Hub is a persistent all-in-one inbox, and rather than being an app, it works at OS level, meaning it's always accessible, whatever you are doing.

"Peek" is how you access this inbox without navigating away from the main app you are using. As well as peeking at emails and messages, you can also take a quick look at social-networking updates from sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and RIM will be making the notifications bar API available to developers.

Flow is the name RIM has given to the one-handed swipe access it has given to various features in the OS, including the Hub. 

But isn't the selection of apps a bit limited on BlackBerry phones?

 In recent history that's been the case, but realising the importance of an active ecosystem and how far it had fallen behind rivals like Google and Apple's app stores, RIM has been actively trying to entice developers to start building for the platform ahead of launch, as well as making their existing apps available on the new platform.

Around 70,000 apps available on the BlackBerry app store at launch, and if BlackBerry 10 does well, more will follow.

To this end, RIM holds BlackBerry Jam developer events around the world; more recently it has staged several "port-a-thons" to maximise the number of apps in the store when the devices launch. This seems to have had the desired effect, with thousands of new apps approved for submission after each event.

RIM also makes it easy for lots of Android apps to be made compatible with BlackBerry 10 using its "app player" — essentially a small software "container" in which developers can place their apps to make it work on the platform.

Thorsten Heins, the chief executive of RIM, has said that there will be around 70,000 apps available on the BlackBerry app store at launch, and if BlackBerry 10 does well, more will follow as developers get on board. 

What about the handsets: Touchscreens or keyboards?

RIM looks set to release a touchscreen and a phone with a hardware keyboard, the Z10 and the X10, respectively, according to leaks.

Last year, RIM said its first handsets would likely be all touchscreen, but to allay loyal BlackBerry customers' fears, Heins said it will be introducing models with its trademark QWERTY keyboards.

"We never stated that we wouldn't build BlackBerry 10 devices with physical keyboards," he said. "We know what our strengths are. And it would be plain wrong to get rid of the physical keyboard," Heins told CNET.

BB10 keyboard
BlackBerry 10's keyboard with predictive text gets smarter as you use it.
(Credit: Ben Woods)

However, even for RIM's handsets that don't have a physical keyboard it has paid particular attention to its on-screen counterpart. For example, it has a smart word-prediction system that learns the words you use most often, partly by scanning your messages and emails.

In addition to this, it has an invisible virtual second keyboard underneath the one on-screen. RIM has done this so it learns where on the screen you hit particular keys and adjusts over time to ensure it enters the word you intended. 

Will I be able to get one on my network?

RIM will be going big on this launch, so expect the company to make the handsets as widely available as possible, as quickly as possible.

All the major operators in the US and the UK (globally, more than 100) have pledged to support the new platform, so there should be no shortage of handsets. A stock shortage at launch is not a situation RIM wants to create, considering the launch has already been twice delayed. 

Will I have to relearn everything I do on my BlackBerry?

It's a different experience, but in a good way. Gone are those icons of old while there's also a lot more social-networking integration in the OS, saving you time for some oft-repeated tasks like checking your notifications.

But that's not to say it's all different: There are still the same familiar features, whether your company uses BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) or not, like secure email and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).

It's different in the way that you navigate it, more than anything, thanks to the introduction of Hub, Peek, and Flow. 

My company gave me my phone, what's the Balance thing?

Balance actually isn't new, but RIM's going to be making a bit more noise about it when BlackBerry 10 arrives.

BB10's a different experience, but in a good way. Gone are those icons of old while there's also a lot more social-networking integration.

Balance is short for work/life balance — it's RIM's way of allowing corporate customers to keep their documents and communications secure and separate from the personal photos, apps, and documents of the employee using the phone.

RIM's management tools will give companies complete control over this "work" section and what functions are permitted. For example, entering BlackBerry World (nee, "BlackBerry App World") in the Work mode will give a list of apps that have been approved for installation and use by your company. If, however, your friendly IT manager doesn't think that Facebook is a business essential, you can still install it in the "personal" side of your phone.

That's not to say you can't access personal apps and information from the Work section; you just can't share information between them. So, for example, if you wanted to copy some text from a work email and paste it into the Facebook application on the personal side of your phone, you wouldn't be able to. 

So will RIM be doing a tablet too?

It would be hard to see RIM re-launching its handsets using a platform that's based around its tablet operating system (which is where QNX came in) and then not introduce a new tablet to use it, but it is at least possible.

To date, RIM has launched a few minor updates to what is essentially the same PlayBook tablet it introduced back in September 2010, and among the new models was a 4G LTE variant. However, the original PlayBook was poorly executed in parts and failed to appeal in a big way to business or consumer users due to some strange decisions, such as omitting a native email client at launch. 

So when is all this going to happen?

BlackBerry 10 is set to launch on 30 January. Best-case scenario for RIM is that BlackBerry 10 reignites consumer and enterprise interest in the brand. Worst case, RIM sets out its strategy and the world just shrugs and carries on as normal, at which point we may see RIM set its sights on new horizons.

Topics: BlackBerry, Apps, Mobility, Smartphones

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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  • For those interested

    Here is a pretty positive review of the BB10 UI
    • What were they paid?

      That site rarely posts independent reviews, I wouldn't trust too much of what they say.

      All you need to know, is Blackberry it irreverent in 2013.
      Mark Str
      • And likewise

        "All you need to know, is Blackberry it irreverent in 2013." - Mark Str

        You must be the village idiot to make such a statement without supporting facts. You're irrelevant period.

        You're the village idiot who flunked grade 7 essay class because you never understood the structure of a valid argument.
        Joe Buck
        • What a moron

          This guy doesn't know anything that happens outside of his FB feed. BB irrelevant? Are you fking daft? Do you have any idea how much of the world uses BB, particularly due to data prices? BB is far from irrelevant... except to you, all you need is to check in on foursquare at your friendly neighbourhood sh!thole bar and press like on Molson Brewing Company...

          What a tool.
          İl Ke
        • might be more interesting

          to assume he didn't make a typo and really did mean irreVeRent, as in not worshiping at the alters of Apple, Google or MSFT.
      • Wait a minute.

        So we shouldn't trust a website that has actually used a BB10,

        Instead we should trust you, a nobody from the Internet Forums?

        Yeah, whatever.
      • Re: That site rarely posts independent reviews

        Au contraire, the fact that they have managed to get on the PR department shitlists of several major corporations suggests that their reviews might be a little TOO independent for some people's tastes...
  • Physical keyboard (or lack thereof)

    Hi find it hard to reconcile Heins' comment that physical keyboards are one of the company's strengths, and the fact that their initial line up of BB10 devices won't include a model with a physical keyboard. If that's your strength, a key differentiator from most of your competitors, and a highly valued feature for your core user base, why would you not make sure your new platform (which needs to be good to save you from demise) incorporates and celebrates it?!
    • Where are you getting your facts from?

      You come off as a troll because RIM has mentioned on numerous occasions that BB10 WILL be launching with a full touch device AND a qwerty touch device. Did you do any research before you made a heavily misinformed post like this? A simple 10-20 second google search could have prevented you from coming off as a total troll.

      To be clear: RIM wants to have the best TOUCHSCREEN QWERTY as well since they already have the best PHYSICAL QWERTY.
    • Blind

      Oh and these facts are stated right in the article....
      "RIM's first handsets will likely be all touchscreen; at least, that's what the company was saying in the middle of 2012, but to allay loyal BlackBerry customers' fears, Heins has already said it will be introducing models with its trademark QWERTY keyboards.

      "We never stated that we wouldn't build BlackBerry 10 devices with physical keyboards," he said. "We know what our strengths are. And it would be plain wrong to get rid of the physical keyboard," Heins told CNET."
  • Innacurate

    Your statement on the 4G LTE Playbook is inaccurate. The original wifi playbook did not have native email, but always had browser access to mail. The original software was upgraded several times to include the native calendar, mail and contact programs well ahead of the 4GLTE launch. RIM has near 80 million Blackberry users waiting for this new platform.

    The Blackberry 10 X10 with full QWERTY keyboard is launching on January 30, 2013 as well as the full touch Z10.
    • Laughing...

      @pfcsystems: Really... it was updated several time to include those standard apps.? I laugh at people like you who continue to defend RIM even after getting burned over and over again. I bought the PB when it was first released. The 2 boneheaded co-CEO's promised those apps within a few months. It took RIM over a year... remember?

      The new handsets are over a year behind. This is a company who is simply not capable of executing a strategy and then lies to their customers with promises they cannot keep. I personally am done with RIM. They are getting what they deserve.
    • Even More Truth

      The original Playbook had e-mail and a caledar that work perfectly. They're just bridged from a Blackberry phone. If you loaded all your e-mail sources into your phone they were all on the Palbook through the bridge and could be answered, forwarded etc. What all the whiners talk about is they wanted it to work like a ToyPad. The first upgrade added the native e-mail and calender that I hardly ever use. Oh did I mention that it came with full MS Office compatiblity already loaded. No "APLICATIONS" indeed. Oh no, no ToyBook little kids games!
  • great

    Great article Ben, nice to read something other than RIM bashing. So many comments I read from most articles clearly come from people who can't shake the current BB phones out of they're heads, this phone is totally new. I would have also mentioned that BB Messanger will also have voice & video chat along with screen sharing
    • RIM Bashing

      Most RIM basher are people who are:

      A - Trying to catch bottom when RIM was in a down trend and got burned
      B - Idiots who went long at $134 and sold at $6.10. Now they angry for now going long when RIM reversed the trend so the only to validate their action is to make other believes RIM won't make it.
      Joe Buck
      • could be

        It usually isn't customary for so many to bashthe underdog, especially when they're down, so that could be at least a partially valid point. I never thought of that
        • RIM bashing

          I don't really understand a dogmatic loyalty to one OS over another. If one serves you well, buy in to it. If you see one that you think would serve you better, make a move. I can understand why people do not like to see a player become too dominant (as it can limit choices and innovation), but to want to see the "underdog" fail really is hard to understand.
  • BYOD is a FAD

    BYOD is a fad that will go away as soon as the new BB10 phones come out. Why would I want to pay for a phone that I can get my boss to supply me with if it is has just as good a User Experience as all of the others?
    Why would my boss want to pay more to support multiple handsets and OSes?
    Susan Antony
    • it's not a fad. you are simply misinformed.

      Heh, you're living in the past. It's far from a fad. A simple company like FIXMO ( has basically ripped off PineCone // Good Tech, but did it properly, and have already brought in BYOD software to the White House, US Navy, and more. With the Samsung Galaxy & iPhones receiving US Government clearance for administrative // military use, the BB hold on that segment will sadly diminish greatly.

      Furthermore, there's no "multiple OS" support issues, as this is all handled very easily by the sandbox app.
      İl Ke
      • Container - dumb terminal

        Having used Good Technology for 2 years I'd say 80% of employees hate it. It's great to secure data and keep it separated. It's bad because all the slick native functionality is shut off. Users want to use corporate data in all this Apps - which goes against all reasons you deploy a secure container.