A Step in the Right Direction: Thoughts and Observations About BlackBerry 10

What follows are my notes taken during RIM’s BlackBerry 10 launch event. I wrote them on my iPhone whilst watching the live stream. After the event finished, I took some time to review and edit my thoughts into more concise phrases. They’re short, candid and honest. My initial takeaway, written after the event, is at the end of the following snippets.

Gestures — was never really shown these throughout the video. Profiles look interesting. I'd like that feature on my devices.

Keyboard? LOL

Port-a-thon? Wow. They're shameless.

Isn't telling other people to honk their horn whilst driving illegal?

Lil 'E. How much did RIM pay him?

Cutting some guy's hair? Wow. He has a "fanboy" shirt on. At least BB fans embrace the word.

Disco lights. Hm.

Like the blue colour scheme and huge screen behind CEO. Dare I say that even some of the typography is tasteful.


Most challenging year of CEO's life. Wow.

Innovation, really? Getting sick of this word.

I'm liking this presentation more than Microsoft's. Feels more personable.

Connected. Getting Things Done. Maybe this OS could be better for me? I fit those boxes.

First iOS reference. Had a go at home button for a poor experience. Fair enough — it's a bit clunky switching between apps, I guess.

True mobile computing? Is he suggesting iOS and Android aren't? If not, what are they?

"Personal Internet of things."

Go it alone, instead of adopting….? …Android? Didn't say Android, but implied? WP maybe? They did what Apple would have done: made their own OS. Makes sense to not be tethered, but it's certainly more risk. What if BB10 doesn't catch on?

3 "innovations" said in 5 seconds?

That unveiling of the devices rising up from the stage was cool. Reminds me of the iPhone 5.

Q10 with keyboard is dead on arrival. Ugly, looks like a phone I'd see in early 2000s.

Z10 looks more promising. Like the idea of a textured surface on the back. Maybe it'd feel cheap, though?

He says "responsive" a lot, but not that the phone is. He says it makes HIM responsive. Phone doesn't look slow, though.

People didn't really clap much when physical keyboards were mentioned. Slightly awkward. Even the keyboard faithful have realised they're a dying breed?

So far that's what he's pushed the most since the phones were unveiled - the keyboard.

Demo. This is going to be good.

Flow. How does swiping work with games / music creation apps? Reminds me of charms bar in Windows 8.

Full multitasking? That's a bad idea, right? Battery life? That isn't explained.

Flow looks neat if you get a new notification whilst video is playing — it's easy to just slide the video out of the way to view notifications, without interrupting playback. That's a feature I'd love on iOS.

Flow is designed to be used one-handed.

Saw some jitter during animation, then.

Deep integration with tons of services: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. That's cool. BlackBerry's "Hub" is a cross between Notification Centre and an inbox. It's possible to do a lot more in the hub that Notification Centre, though.

Gestures will save time when switching between apps. I like that, but have to wonder if it impacts individual apps to use gestures.

The Hub brings together all your notifications — but can show you upcoming events from your calendar, too. That's a neat feature: an interesting and new past/future approach. I like that.

Some of those photos pulled from Facebook and LinkedIn are warped and distorted, but pulling live info is a clever technology. Is this content stored on the phone? How does it work? Does it require 3G? No explanation.

Hub reminds me of WP8's People app. A lot of potential, but I think it needs to be explained more. How exactly does it work?

Typing on the software keyboard: flicking words as a kind of autocomplete. I'd like that on iOS. I want better keyboards on my phone. This looks advanced and more thought-through than iOS's.

Typing in other languages is pointless if you don't understand them, but it's clever that BB10 can detect which language you're typing in.

Dropping spaces and fixing errors is amazing. That should have been the demo. Imagine typing a full sentence without tapping the spacebar between words, and even making some typos. Once you're at the end of the sentence, BB10 figures out what you meant to say and autocorrects. That's very clever. I want it.

BB Balance: these are like the old Nokia profiles on phones. Work and Personal are defaults. Everything can be changed between the two: wallpapers, apps, colour schemes. Looks a bit confusing, though — apps running in one profile show up on both? Isn't that exactly what having profiles should be eliminating?

There doesn't appear to be a guide for app icons. Some are clearly taken directly from iOS. Some are square. Some are round. Some are oddly shaped. Not consistent. Doesn't look as ugly as Android can, though.

Battery life is depleting on the demo unit. Less than half battery.

All the features he's mentioned in BB Messenger are available on iOS. Their video calling UI looks just like FaceTime.

Screen-Share sounds fascinating. But why would I want that in a call environment? I have AirPlay mirroring. I suppose sharing your screen from one side of the world to another is a novel idea, but how practically useful is it? Still, it's neat.

Perhaps the Screen-Share feature is still a little buggy. It looked like the demo went out of sync near the end, with the device sending the screen lagging behind the device which was viewing the screen. No idea how that could happen. Perhaps it was the live feed — the device sending the screen was on the other side of the world. A little confusing of a demo.

This is confusing. Vacation? Voice memos? Evernote? What is Remember? A to-do list app? I don't understand.

BB10's camera is interesting. In order to take a picture, you must tap the screen in a non-specified area. Doing so will shake the entire device, making pictures blurry. Every single image taken during the demo was blurry, almost certainly because of this.

Blurry images. Time shift looks cool - when's the iOS app which does that coming out? Tomorrow? Camera+ on iOS has a similar feature: it automatically takes an image when it detects the iPhone isn't moving.

More thoughts about Flow, with regards to navigating the OS. It's more modular than iOS and Android. Instead of having a "Homescreen" upon which all your apps are displayed, with a Home button always returning the user to the Homescreen, BB10 allows and even touts the ability of launching one app directly within another. This seems to suggest the "Homescreen" is a last-resort. More of a way to delete apps than launch them. This is an interesting concept, but it is certainly more confusing. It's less structured.

"Story Maker" app. Which iOS app does this represent? iMovie? It looks simpler than iMovie. Curious as to how many different styles and themes are contained within the video editing software. It's installed by default?

Starting to feel the whole OS is a little too easy to lose yourself in. Perhaps it's a great update for existing blackberry fans, but I don't think it's much of a threat to iOS. New users will have a very steep learning curve.

Disco lights again.

70,000 apps available from day 1. That's a big number. "Not just 46 of the top 50" - is that a Windows Phone joke? Pretty sure WP8's presentation touted 46 out of the top 50.

The Economist app on BB10 is using the exact icon of their old iOS app — complete with Apple's gloss shine. The Economist on iOS is now a Newsstand app with a more beautiful icon.

Did he expect applause after saying there's no need to reboot the device after installing an app? Really? How is that a feature?

End of February? Available in US in March. UK today?

"Conversations with working moms and artists"? Global Creative Director position at BB. What does this mean? Her? This is going to be someone they paid a lot of money to.

Yep, looks like Alicia Keys will be getting a lot of dough from BlackBerry (no longer called RIM).

So, RIM is now called BlackBerry. (That's a shame.)

BB10 is finally here.

It looks to be a very different departure from iOS, Android, Window Phone and Ubuntu mobile. This is a good thing.

If I had to describe BB10 using existing smartphone operating systems, I’d call it a cross between Android and older BlackBerrys software-wise, with some of Apple’s control over hardware. The design seems to be more unified than Android, but not as beautiful as iOS.

One of the biggest differences between BB10 and other smartphones is the deviation from a “Homescreen > App” navigation UI. This is familar to any iOS user — you’re either in an app, or you’re navigating the homescreen. BB10 seems to push a “flow” idea, where the user can navigate from “App > App” as appropriate, with less time “wasted” on a homescreen. This was mentioned repeatedly throughout the presentation. I can see the appeal, but can’t help but feel this approach poses a higher learning curve for new users. It certainly risks being too complex.

The Z10 hardware (without a hardware keyboard) looks very good indeed. I’d love BlackBerry to get in touch and send me a review unit, so I can give some real impressions. I worry that the plastic back of the device may feel cheap to the touch, but it’s also more likely to provide a gripping and comfortable surface, as opposed to the iPhone 5’s metallic and angular edges, sides and back. I’d feel more comfortable resting the Z10 hardware on a smooth gradient, like the arm of a sofa, than the iPhone 5 — which would almost certainly slide right off.

One final question worth asking: is BB10 going to save -RIM- BlackBerry? This is impossible to answer. I think it shows promise. It might stabilise the company short and medium-term, but I don’t feel it’s enough to raise BlackBerry to where they once were.