BlackBerry 10 is about integration, usability

BlackBerry 10 is about integration, usability

Summary: As the Jan. 30, 2013, launch of BlackBerry 10 draws nearer, here's a look at the some of the key elements of the upcoming operating system.


I attended the latest BlackBerry 10 Jam developer conference held in Bangkok last week. With less than two months until its official unveiling on Jan. 30, 2013, I found the company more open to demonstrating some of the key elements of its brand new operating system (OS), though, what it showed was by no means the final user interface (UI).

At BlackBerry 10 Jam in Bangkok.

Here are my thoughts on the upcoming BlackBerry 10 platform based on what I've seen. 

Integration and flow
Unlike a traditional smartphone, key tasks are no longer kept within silos but are integrated across apps. All activities culminate at the BlackBerry Hub, which contains important information such as signal strength and time. RIM has exploited the multi-threaded capabilities of the underlying QNX kernel to let users "peek" or access the Hub from any app. If anything, BlackBerry 10 can be said as more "touch" than the iOS or Android platforms.

Social is also at the core of the new OS, and is deeply integrated into the platform. For example, photos and data harvested from social networks--including LinkedIn profiles--are automatically extracted and used to build a comprehensive user profile.

Other nifty touches can also be seen throughout the few default apps which were demonstrated. Before taking a photo with the camera app, drag the autofocus grid around the screen to set the focus correctly. Tapping on any part of the screen will capture a photo. And like the PlayBook, clicking both the up and down buttons also serves as a shortcut to snap a photo.

The virtual keyboard
Vivek Bhardwaj, head of software portfolio at RIM, talked about the virtual keyboard during one demo, where he highlighted the technology behind the new virtual keyboard. While not widely publicized or known, the superior tactile feel of a BlackBerry keyboard is due to the unique shape and size of each key.

As this doesn't make sense for a virtual keyboard, RIM has instead emulated it by modeling an invisible layer under the virtual keyboard to better map physical key-presses to the intended symbols. Moreover, the keyboard will also learn and adapt based on the current context of what is being typed to deliver the same BlackBerry typing experience.

Bhardwaj suggested that users can master the new keyboard by simply "letting go" and typing. While a physical keyboard may still be superior to folks who "write novels" on their BlackBerry smartphones, some may actually find themselves typing faster on the virtual keyboard, he said.

App support
There is never any doubt that app support is the linchpin of any new OS platform. On this topic, Alec Saunders, who is RIM's vice president developer relations and ecosystem development, promised the company is looking at the "largest number of apps for a first-generation device that the world has ever seen".

While Saunders did not give any figures, the BlackBerry 10 platform is expected to launch with tens of thousands of applications. "Our goal is to get as many applications out in the store as we can," he reiterated at a media briefing.

All these apps are not appearing magically either; developers whom I've spoken to at the conference agreed that putting creating a BlackBerry 10 app is a relatively simple affair. Programmers may want to read more about the development options for the BlackBerry 10.

When it launches early next year, BlackBerry 10 will be the newest and quite possibly the most advanced mobile OS. While this is no guarantee that it will ultimately succeed, RIM is at least doing all the right things on the development front. Indeed, the development team has been heard touting the new platform as "integrated, social and beautiful". From what little I've seen of it so far, this is not an idle boast. 

Topics: Mobile OS, BlackBerry, Smartphones

Paul Mah

About Paul Mah

Paul is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. He enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones and networking devices.

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  • Blackberry 10: AWESOME... an opinion article

    "Opinion BlackBerry users have a love-hate relationship with their phones. The devices were often forced upon users rather than chosen. At the same time, the handhelds were the most usable and useful communications gadgets you could put in your pocket.

    Yes, there are things a BlackBerry can't do very well or at all. But it is capable of doing so many things that its rivals can't match. You have to wonder if the rest of the phone industry has been taking some strange stupefying drug.

    For example, the BlackBerry knows when it's in a holster. It knows when it's on a nightstand so it can do all kinds of "I'm in a nightstand now" things. You know what's "incoming" without taking it out of its case - you can tell that from the LED indicator. (Enthusiasts have written programs to allow you to set sophisticated 'Blinkenlights' sequences of coloured flashes, telling you in much more detail what is going on.) The obsession with usability extends to giving everything a shortcut key. You can set up a custom shortcut key to show you all the emails from Alice in the last three months, for example.

    Nobody else does this. Has RIM replicated this in its new user interface for BlackBerry OS 10? We've already written up a quick preview of the QNX-powered mobile operating system - here's a follow-up hands-on tour of the kit.

    First off, BlackBerry-maker RIM has acknowledged, or not forgotten, that getting to messaging fast is what the BlackBerry is all about. If BB10 has a "home" screen, it's the "Hub": a list of calendar appointments, and messages aggregated from SMS, email and social networks. Everything else is a kind of card-style overlay on this. Yes, there's a Palm-style app grid. Software can be put into folders, just like on Apple's iOS."

  • BlackBerry rocks!

    I'd love a Windows 8 Phone, and Android has some kickass handsets out there, but I'll be going with a BlackBerry again. Call me a Neanderthal if you want; I just can't do touchscreen. I send a lot of emails and fiddling with on-screen buttons you have to look at and trying to not get the sun obscuring your view is just not for me.

    Even if other O.Ss did the software side of email and other communications standards as well as BlackBerry -- and I have not seen much evidence of that --, a physical keyboard is still a sine qua non if one does any serious amount of text input.

    I don't care how flashy or fashionable my handset is. I need it to fulfill my needs efficiently, effectively and reliably, and BlackBerry does that par excellence. I've owned BlackBerrys for the past four years and I'll be definitely buying an O.S. 10 handset when it's released early 2013.
    • Better be careful...

      ...if you are planning on using it with corporate e-mail.

      Because if your organization doesn't UPGRADE its current BES system to the new aren't going to be able to send or receive messages on your BB10 device.

      And if your organization is still using current BB devices, they will need to have BES setups for BOTH the old & new devices. They are not cross compatible.
      • ActiveSync

        My understanding is that BB10 will be ActiveSync compatible. You would not have the control of a true BES, but it will play with Exchange Server in the same way that iOS, Android and WP do today.
      • IT_Fella

        You must not be keeping up with the reality here. You will get messaging on your BB10 with out BES. MDM wise yes you wont be able to apply BES policies and you will need MF/BDS for bb10 devices. If you have no idea what is in store for BES 10 then i suggest that you do because there will be a type of integration.
        • Hey Sparky...

's YOU who are clueless. I'm talking about BES CORPORATE messaging dimbulb!

          "Thus if you're looking to operate a mixed fleet of BBOS 7 and older devices together with BB10 devices you'll need both the old and the new pieces of software."

          • LOL..nope not clueless

            I'm using both BES and MF. Guess what, my pb uses active sync with using MF. the article you posted is obselete. If you have any idea or even use the products or know the road map you would know. get a grip IT_Fella. Read my comment..YOU DONT NEED BES 10 for corporate email CLUELESS on BB10.
          • correction

            my PB uses active sync with out using MF. so BB10 will be able to do the same. You just wont be able to manage them with policies. As for will be all consolidated.
          • Again ?

            Please ... just stay in touch with reality !
      • BlackBerry 10 Ready Program for Enterprise

        @IT_Fella : lol
        1/ BB10 will support ActiveSync (worst scenario)
        2/ Current BES5 users will receive a free update to BES10.

        Get updated ! :)
    • obviously everyone has what they like

      but I find it far far easier to input text with a touchscreen. predictive test input apps, especially swiftkey, are so good these days you can let your fingers fly with no problems. this is a lot faster than pressing hard buttons.
  • most advanced OS?

    from a multi-threading point of view, yes. and I would hope that apps developed for BB10 take big advantage of the OS' multi-threading capabilities. but other OS's apps thusfar on any platform (including windows!) have had next to no multi-threading capabilities coded into them. I'm not at all convinced that the apps developed for BB10 will be able to take any greater advantage of this vs any other platform. and that's for what apps BB10 manages to get devs to make at all.

    BB10's only real chance of success lies in the one thing RIM is still good at- security. BYOD is becoming more and more popular, and BB10 will for the most part fail in these places. In companies obsessed with security they have a chance to get their phones locked in there. If they get a large enough install base they will have a chance to built BB10's features and app library and become truly competitive.
    • You don't know much

      That separation of work and personal information has been built-in from the root of the hardware right up throughout the device
      John Hanks
    • You're assertion is not correct. Use any good process utility

      Oil man, use any good process utility like Process Explorer and you will that many applications will be multi-threaded. I have an i7 (4 cores with an additional thread per core) and if you watch task manager you will see utilization on all 8!

      You don't always have to explicitly code threading to have multi-threads. For example if you receive events from a USB device they will be on a different thread.

      Any application that has a complex GUI will likely be doing multithreading or the application won't be responsive. Just a quick examination just know shows over 300 threads. One of my Chrome browser instances has 27. Another process has 170. Internet Explorer (fresh launch) has 22 on my system.

      Seriously people need to quit this business of saying that applications don't utilize the extra cores or aren't multi-threaded. Just a cursory examination would put that to rest.
  • Better match for MS than Nokia?

    But what the heck would MS do with Metro/WP8?
    • Metro is basically a design language

      Bringing some information to the icons at the start of the UI. In theory you could do that with any OS, including this one... if licensed to the maker.
  • At 1.6% Market Share, RIM needs a miracle

    With RIM's current 1.6% market share in North America, there is wide-spread perception that they are no longer relevant. Enterprises and government organizations, traditionally RIM's bread and buttter, are dumping Blackberry in droves. And from a consumer perspective, many people feel almost embarrassed to own or use one, often being apologetic -- "It's what they make us use at the office" -- rather than expressing the passionate enthusiasm we hear from iPhone users.

    To put things into perspective, RIM's North American market share is now smaller than then newly launched (and not well received) Windows 8 phone, and their market share continues to decline. Truly, RIM needs a miracle to turn things around.

    I believe RIM's recent stock run-up is inspired by the hope (belief?) that RIM's BB10 operating system will indeed be that miracle. January 30, 2013, BB10's official release date, will be the final curtain call to see if that miracle manifest, or not. I predict that die-hard Blackberry fans will praise BB10 for being the best thing since sliced bread, and "better" than the competition, while the public at large, including enterprises and government organizations, view it as "too little, too late," and continue leaving Blackberry for other products. Eventually, RIM will become a footnote in Canadian telecom history, much like Nortel Network. It will be remembered that RIM died for the same reasons that Palm Computing did: They were once the industry leader, and they believed they were so good, than nobody could best them. They were wrong.
    • Not the whole story

      @SteveMak there are many truths in what you've stated, although to paraphrase, "those facts,although interesting, aren't necessarily relevant".First off, I am a long-time BB user and like (m)any users of any device, we become predisposed to a platform, whether that be BB, Apple, MS, etc. RIM's current US penetration is small and decreasing, but don't mistake a US-centric view with what is happening elsewhere. As late as this year, RIM still had a market share over Apple in Canada (I don't have current stats). There are many countries where RIM products are not just popular, but dominant. In the US, that is not the case, but the US ≠ The World.

      Second, I know many people with many different devices, and I don't know ANY that are apologetic for the device they own (other than if it is a non "smart phone") or that obtain any sort of "image value" from their device, so I'm not certain what circles you travel in where you see that happening.

      Lastly, I will almost certainly be upgrading from my BB Torch to a new BB10 device in 2013, not because of a misplaced loyalty to the product, but because I have always been impressed and satisfied with the quality of my RIM devices (PlayBook included), the functionality they provide suites my needs well, if not better than other offerings, and in comparison with other devices (many Apple and Android devices included), the RIM offering is better all around for me. You may have a different experience, and that's fine, but I wouldn't want to pretend that either of our experiences necessarily "translate" to others.

      What continues to surprise me, and I see this more from Apple users than others, but not exclusively so, is the willingness to forcefully express an opinion that device A is better than device B, without consideration how either device might suit an individual's needs, and oftentimes without any meaningful exposure to "not my device".

      But I guess we'll wait until 2013 for early indications of RIM's fate.
  • Fell for it with the Playbook

    I bought a Playbook last December because lots of Android apps were expected to be available with the OS 2.0 upgrade. It's now a year later, the apps haven't magically materialized, and I'm shopping for an iPad. I'll believe in their app ecosystem when it exists. I'll never buy anything from them on faith again.
    Valerie M.
  • Great article

    Very refreshing to see an unbiased and honest peek at BB10.
    Daniel Yurcovic