I gave up on my BlackBerry Bold a long time ago. As much as I loved the BlackBerry keyboard, dealing with software and hardware that felt five years behind the curve had me practically running to the iPhone, Android — even Windows Phone. I haven’t looked back since, but I’ll admit, BlackBerry 10 has me a bit curious.
Research In Motion is set to officially launch its latest mobile operating system on Jan. 30 in New York. Using the tagline, “Re-designed. Re-engineered. Re-invented,” BlackBerry 10 represents a major overhaul of RIM’s software — a much needed one for a company that’s losing customers to iOS and Android.
RIM previewed some of the new features of BlackBerry 10 at its BlackBerry Jam conference, so here’s what we know thus far:
Let It Flow
BlackBerry 10 will feature a completely new, touch-focused interface. The home screen features widgets that act as shortcuts to your applications and also displays real-time information, much like Windows Phone’s Live tiles.
Multitasking will be easier with something called BlackBerry Flow. You no longer have to close one app to launch another. Instead, you’ll be able to switch between them using a series of swipes, and the apps will continue running in the background.
Another feature called Peek lets you view notifications by swiping up on the screen from wherever you are on the phone. I’m not completely sold on this aspect, as the notifications are hidden until you pull them onscreen. I prefer a system like Android’s where you can see notifications at all times on top of the screen, so I know immediately when I have new messages, Twitter interactions, etc.
Messaging has always been a strong suit of BlackBerrys, and it looks like that will continue in BlackBerry 10. The new BlackBerry Hub serves as a unified inbox for all messages, including email, text messages, BBM, social networks and so forth. Even your calendar appointments are integrated.
Users will be able to choose which accounts they want filtered into the Hub. And like Peek, you can access BlackBerry Hub from anywhere on your phone by swiping up and then over to the right.
The great thing about smartphones is that they provide you with always-on access to the connected world. The bad thing about smartphones is that they provide you with always-on access to the connected world, including work email.
To help create a better balance between your work life and your home life, BlackBerry 10 offers Work and Personal mode. In work mode, you’ll have full access to your corporate email and all your productivity apps. But once you’re ready to head home, you can switch to your personal profile to turn off email and blow off some steam with a game of Angry Birds Star Wars.
Smartphones have become the go-to camera for a lot of people, but it takes more than megapixels to make a good camera phone. Software also plays a huge part. As a result, RIM added a new feature to its camera app called Time Shift. It takes multiple shots of your subject in quick succession, and you can then choose the best shot using the virtual radial dial.
It’s worth noting that Samsung offers a similar feature on the Galaxy Note II, though RIM’s solution looks better.
The hardest part about giving up my BlackBerry was losing the physical keyboard. I still miss it. I can’t imagine RIM doing away with such devices, but with BlackBerry 10 being such a touch-focused OS, I’m guessing there will be an increase of touchscreen-based models. As such, BlackBerry 10 has a revamped virtual keyboard that can predict what you’ll type next and learns your writing style and vocabulary over time. Android offers similar third-party keyboard apps like SwiftKey.
From what I’ve seen, BlackBerry 10 is a huge improvement over the previous software and looks very slick. The feedback from carriers has also been positive so far. But I’m not sure that’s enough.
Though RIM has put its own spin on the features, none of them are particularly new. And therein lies one of the challenges for RIM. Can it convince customers that BlackBerry 10 is better than the competition? Can it convince developers to create apps for the OS? At this point, RIM is playing a long overdue game of catch-up, so it’s going to be a major uphill battle.
Admittedly, we haven’t seen everything BlackBerry 10 has to offer, so the Jan. 30 event should be interesting. Based on some leaked screenshots, it looks as though a Siri-like voice-controlled assistant app is on tap. Hopefully, we’ll also learn more about app support and get a glimpse of some new phones.
AllThingsD will be in attendance, so be sure to check back then for all the latest news.