It’s been four months since RIM first introduced its BlackBerry 10 operating system. Since then, we’ve heard relatively little about the OS that is supposed to help save the BlackBerry brand when it’s released early next year. Today, RIM finally gave the world an up-close-and-personal look at BlackBerry 10 running on one of the company’s development platforms. Is there enough here to get RIM back in the game?
BlackBerry 10’s interface seems fairly standard at first glance. You get five home screens with room for up to 16 app shortcuts each. At the bottom of the screen are three static buttons for the phone’s dialer, search function and camera app. To unlock the phone, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen, clearing a blue haze as you move your finger across the display. Once you get inside though, it’s clear that RIM is trying to build a different and better user experience.
BlackBerry 10 makes it easy to find information without having to constantly bounce back to the home screen. The OS allows users to quickly move from apps such as messenger to calendar by swiping down from the top of the screen. Users can then swipe over to their contacts page, all without having to exit the messages app. RIM says this kind of interactivity will be uniform across the operating system.
BlackBerry 10 also features a slick way to manage running apps. When you want to keep an app running, simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen to minimize it. Minimized apps, which are viewable from the home screen, look similar to the widgets found on Android devices.
RIM says the minimized apps will continue to bring in data, but cannot be interacted with until they are opened up again. For example, if you shrink a news app, you’ll continue to receive updates that will appear in the shrunken app window, but you wouldn’t be able to scroll through various news stories.
One of the biggest reasons users remain faithful to RIM’s BlackBerry smartphones is that they enjoy using a physical keyboard. But with BlackBerry 10, RIM is putting a heavy emphasis on a new virtual keyboard. RIM’s CEO Thorsten Heins showed off the keyboard during BlackBerry World back in May and it looked very promising at the time. RIM says the keyboard is capable of gradually adapting to your typing style to help compensate for differences in users’ finger sizes.
A new predictive text function can detect commonly used words and display them above the keyboard, allowing users to swipe them from the keyboard to the text box. Deleting text is just as easy. Simply swipe from right to left across the keyboard and you’ll automatically delete the last word you typed. Swiping multiple times will delete multiple words.
But fear not physical keyboard lovers, RIM has said that they will still offer some smartphones with physical keyboards.
With more business workers looking to bring their personal devices into the office, RIM has chosen to outfit BlackBerry 10 with two built-in profiles, Work and Personal. To bring up the profile menu, swipe down from the top of the screen and choose the profile you want to use.
The profiles separate everything from the available apps to the photos saved in your gallery. Take a picture in Personal mode and it will only be viewable in Personal mode. RIM says IT departments will also be able to assign apps to each profile, so if your company wants you to download an app, you can switch over to the Work profile and download it like any other app. Ultimately, we’re not sure workers want to deal with two modes on their smartphones, but we suppose it’s better than carrying two devices.
We’ve been interested in BlackBerry 10’s new camera app since we first saw it at BlackBerry World in May, and after getting to spend time with it, we can say it’s a pretty killer feature. When a user shoots a photo with Time Shift, they can tap on the screen to highlight a person’s face and roll back that area of the image to a previous shot, allowing them to piece together the perfect picture. The Samsung Galaxy Note II offers a similar feature for group photos, but RIM’s solution is a little more elegant.
RIM is making some serious changes to the way users check their messages with BlackBerry 10. Users can now view every message they get including BBM messages, texts, emails and social media updates from a shared interface called BlackBerry Hub. Need to check a text? Open BlackBerry Hub and scroll down to the text section. Want to see what your Twitter direct messages? Scroll down to the Twitter section. It’s a very intuitive interface and one that we would like to see implemented in other operating systems.
BlackBerry 10 faces very stiff competition, not just from Android and the iPhone 5, but a resurgent Windows Phone. Still, RIM has done an impressive job of modernizing its interface, making your smartphone work for you instead of the other way around. The interface is far easier to use, and we like how easy it is to check messages and switch applications. What remains to be seen is just how strong the app selection will be.
We’re expecting to get some hands-on time with BlackBerry 10 later today, so stay tuned for a more in-depth look at RIM’s next OS.