Come January 30 and BlackBerry 10, Research in Motion's much awaited and make-or-break OS, will be launched. While India might need to wait a few weeks to experience BB10, here's our take on the upcoming OS, based on our hands-on experience with the BB10 Dev Alpha B device at the recent BlackBerry Jam Asia and interviews with key RIM executives.
The hands-on experience with the BB10 Dev Alpha B was important because strong rumours state the specs of the BB10 Dev Alpha B are almost identical to the final Z10 BB10 full touch smartphone that comes with the following features:
a dual core 1.5GHz TI OMAP 4470 processor (Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8960 for the US and Canada markets)
a 4.2-inch display with 1280 x 768 resolution at an eye-popping 356 PPI (pixels per inch), which leaves the iPhone's Retina display with 326 PPI quite far behind
Connectivity options would include NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, 3G and, of course, Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n)
an 8MP AF shooter and a 2MP front facing camera with 1080p video recording
microHDMI-Out for AV with microUSB for PC interfacing and charging
And lastly, 2GB of RAM with 16GB of internal storage (hot-swap microSD)
The device is also touted to have a1800 mAh removable battery. There were also some rumours of a monster 2800 mAh battery being in a later BB10 device that would be powered by a quad-core 1.5GHz processor. According to RIM CEO Thorsten Heins, the smartphone maker will have a total of six BB10 smartphones – three with all-touch displays and three with physical keyboards in the traditional BlackBerry styling, hopefully with a few tweaks. And finally, the Z10 will have a range of sensors, including one for ambient light, accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope and face detection capabilities for phone calls.
The Developer phone for the all new OS 10
The developer phone for the all new OS 10
The beta OS on the BB10 Dev Alpha B device was smooth and highly responsive with absolutely no lag when we used the demo devices at BB Jam Asia. RIM has clearly come a long way from the early Storm devices, which RIM touted as iPhone killers only to commit ‘hara-kiri’ with poor touchscreens and a buggy UI at best. Despite multiple applications running in the background, the system functioned liked a well-oiled machine – another plus given that QNX, the OS on which BB10 is based on, is renowned for its multitasking abilities. This was the first time I didn’t see the infamous hourglass icon that's been the bane of my BB experience. Vivek Bhardwaj, RIM's Head of Software Portfolio, explained that the user interface in BB10 is built around fluid gestures and swipes, rather than individual taps to get into and out of different apps and functions—which is why there's no Home button either.
But what wowed me as a die-hard QWERTY lover was the keyboard. Admittedly, I have not used iPhones, but this keyboard left the Android keyboards, even on large devices such as Samsung Galaxy Note 2, far behind. The individual keys seemed perfectly spaced, just like RIM's physical keyboards, and with suggested words popping up not just at the top of the keyboard but across individual keys, it's brilliant! RIM claims the new BlackBerry 10 keyboard learns a user's writing style and suggests words to help them type faster and accurately. And if you tend to mistype certain letters, the keyboard will remember and subtly adjust to make sure you hit the right key. I’ve hated touch screens for years primarily because of the keyboard, since I email quite a bit and write extensively using my smartphone, but this keyboard, for the first time ever, left me in high anticipation of a full-touch smartphone. Urpo Karjalainen, RIM's Regional Managing Director for Asia Pacific, swears that he can type faster on the new BB10 keyboard than on his Bold 9900, which has perhaps the best physical keyboard to date. This is especially because the newer on-screen keyboard allows him to write without typing.
Then there's BlackBerry Hub, which is all about productivity. Whichever app or feature you are using, a gentle upward swipe shows you notifications from the BlackBerry Hub, which encompasses e-mail, BBM, SMS, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn et al along with other applications of your choice and, of course, your plain vanilla phone calls. An upward and then right swipe will take you into the Hub itself, where you can directly post a Facebook update, check your mail or send a picture using BBM. The social applications are baked into the Hub and you needn't go to the individual apps to post updates. RIM says the aim is to flow effortlessly in and out of your messages and conversations.
For busy business people who have meeting requests to deal with, the Hub also provides context to that particular meeting with the e-mails referring to that meeting instantly available in a tab with pictures from LinkedIn of the person you have to meet. So if you're the type who likes blind dates, you no longer need to wonder which among the two ladies reading a book in the cafe is the one you're there to meet. This feature and the contacts feature use contact management technology from Gist that RIM acquired. Why LinkedIn? Because unlike Facebook, where users can have pictures of their dog, hardly anyone uses a fake or irrelevant picture on LinkedIn since it is used for professional social networking.
Will the RIMpire strike back with BlackBerry 10?