After a 15-month tease, Research in Motion today unveiled the QNX-based BlackBerry 10 OS and two smartphones running it. The company also renamed itself BlackBerry.
The BlackBerry had once been the smartphone standard, but after years of ignoring Apple's iPhone and then Google's Android it has fallen to less than 5 percent of current smartphone sales. Even the BlackBerry's stalwart market -- businesses -- now has largely standardized on the iPhone.
BlackBerry's bid today to become relevant once again is based on a major break from the BlackBerry past, featuring a highly graphical, touch-based user interface more reminiscent of the defunct Palm WebOS than the DOS-like traditional BlackBerry experience. The first units are expected to ship in March. All four major U.S. carriers will take preorders today, with prices to be announced later. Canadians will get the new devices in February, and Britons can buy them tomorrow.
[ Recap: How the BlackBerry fell so far. | Explained: RIM's BES 10 MDM road map. | Get expert advice about planning and implementing your BYOD strategy with InfoWorld's in-depth "Mobile and BYOD Deep Dive" PDF special report. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobilize newsletter. ]
RIM's pitch for BlackBerry 10 comes down to easier multitasking than iOS or Android provide. BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins made a swipe at iOS in announcing the BlackBerry 10 by noting that no Home button is needed in RIM's new OS to switch among apps. Instead, the Peek and Flow user interface that the company began demoing in spring 2012 lets users quickly shuffle apps as if they were cards, as well as quickly peek at various updates -- from social networking to app status -- via a short swipe gesture.
The BlackBerry Hub, like Microsoft's People app for Windows Phone, provides a single place to see all updates and go to the relevant apps to act on them when desired. You can also initiate tweets, emails, and other communications from the Hub.
The BlackBerry 10 OS also supports swipe-based text entry, similar to what Samsung offers on its Android devices, using technology licensed from Swype. BlackBerry 10 also lets you delete text while typing via a quick flick to the left (a gesture familiar to iOS users but implemented here in text fields), and it auto-identifies the language you are typing in.
Thorsten also trumpeted BlackBerry 10's security capabilities, which had been the top reason enterprises were slow to drop the BlackBerry, even as it became stale. BlackBerry 10 supports Exchange ActiveSync (EAS), like iOS and Android, for basic security; previous BlackBerry OSes did not. BlackBerry 10 also supports a wide range of security and management tools -- more than are available in iOS or Android -- for companies that adopt the new mobile device management suite, BlackBerry Enterprise Services (BES) 10, whose final version is due in May.
As previously promised, BlackBerry 10 also uses the Balance technology introduced with the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, which sets up an IT-managed corporate space and a personal space for apps and data on your device, keeping them separate but easy to switch between. It requires BES 10. The Hub shows updates from both environments, so users don't need to switch between two separate Hubs. Although iOS allows IT to manage apps and data from corporate servers separately from personal apps and data, the separation is less clear and usually involves the use of homegrown apps or use of the Business App Store.
The popular BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service has been enhanced to support both video chats and -- unique to BlackBerry OS -- screen sharing.
Other enhancements include a slick photo-taking app that lets users save multiple moments in a photo session to choose the best one later; a photo-retouching app similar to that in Android 4.2 "Jelly Bean;" and the Story Maker app that somewhat similar to Apple's $5 iPhoto for iOS. As previously announced, BlackBerry will offer a music and video store like Apple's iTunes Store, Google's Google Play, and Microsoft's Xbox Store.
BlackBerry 10 will be available on two new smartphone models: the touch-only Z10 and the keyboard-equipped Q10. The Q10's keyboard is essentially the same as that in the former flagship, the BlackBerry Bold, which the Q10 strongly resembles. The Z10 looks like some of the slicker Android smartphones available or a curvier iPhone 5.
Promised BlackBerry 10 apps include Rovio's Angry Birds, Microsoft's Skype, SoundHound, Cisco's WebEx, Box, and Amazon.com's Kindle, plus unspecified SAP client apps. The company says users can expect hundreds of games plus reader apps from most major news publishers. A big change in BlackBerry 10 is that a reboot is no longer required after installing apps.
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