written by Maxime Santos, web project manager at Orange
RIM is dead. Long live BlackBerry!
The war that has been raging between the various smartphone manufacturers since the fateful day of November 27, 2007 has claimed many victims. The list of players is long, and over the years many have been forced to retire from the field after being broken down, defeated and swept aside by the Apple-Samsung deluge. When we take the time to remember the most famous among the victims, Nokia and (the late) RIM inevitably spring to mind. More astonishing is how quickly market shares in these two former mobile leaders plunged to rock bottom in practically record time for the telecommunications industry.
but that was before…
After Nokia’s spectacular recovery in 2012 with the Lumia and its decision to play the Windows Phone 8 card (a bold and wise move in my opinion), in 2013 it’s RIM’s turn to make its return.
The comeback is firmly characterized by a shift, firstly in terms of the name of the company, with RIM giving way to BlackBerry, which is much more meaningful and representative of the brand in the eyes of its fans. But it doesn’t stop there…
The company is also shifting away from its own identity, not from the competition
The brand is discarding its traditional design. We bid farewell to the pairing of a physical keyboard and a 16:9 horizontal display with central scrolling wheel functioning as a mouse (in the case of the Z10 anyway). Now, the BlackBerry Z10 is adopting the recognized design codes of its major competitors. The result is a smartphone which at first glance appears very ‘classic’, successfully combining features of the iPhone 5 and the most successful elements of Samsung. The size of the Z10, somewhere between the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy SIII, is one example of this exercise in style. The phone has a glass surface covering the whole width of the screen (larger than the screen’s actual area when lit) and two neat looking dark symmetrical plastic strips at the top and bottom, encasing the device.
Nothing new can be observed on the sides, top or bottom either, with traditional volume buttons on the right, the classic micro-USB and micro-HDMI on the left, and an on/off/standby button positioned centrally on top.
Finally, the back of the device is a single piece with a fairly traditional appearance, making a slight visual reference to the ‘carbon’ effect of some finishes. The slightly raised chrome BlackBerry logo sits in the center. This rear piece was the subject of particular attention during the design phase, as it has been designed to be slightly magnetic and to attract to corresponding shells or cases, enabling it to enter standby mode when inserted and to wake up when removed from its case. Nothing revolutionary here, but the new feature is certainly practical for everyday use.
Yes, you read that right; the Z10 has no buttons on the front – no home button, no physical navigation button, nothing… This is the one really intriguing feature you will notice about the exterior of the device.
The truth is out there
The exterior is not the place to look if you want to know how BlackBerry intends to win back its market share. Rather, we should investigate a few distinguishing functionalities which have been incorporated into the brand new BLACKBERRY 10 operating system.
The first new feature of the Z10 (which comes as no surprise given the design of its exterior) is the uniquely touchscreen navigation. All navigation is performed through movements, some familiar, others more novel. You can easily navigate sideways between the different desktop pages, which are traditionally arranged with aligned icons that can be grouped by themes if desired. However, the vertical sweeping motion from the bottom to the top of the device which replaces the home button is far more innovative. This new action left me bewildered, probably because I had so little time to get used to it. The opposite action, sweeping from top to bottom, displays a practical and intuitive list of short cuts (bluetooth, Wi-Fi, mute, etc.).
On the first pages of the desktop, on the far left, you’ll find some of BlackBerry 10’s main innovations. First of all, there is the BlackBerry HUB, the social cornerstone of the user’s profile. The HUB is simply an environment that brings together all of the user’s social accounts. Here you can configure the settings for the popular BBM instant messaging service loved by BlackBerry fans, plus SMS and MMS, personal email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social network profiles and calendars, etc. This makes everything accessible with a single gesture and it can be fully configured to stop the HUB descending into chaos. The result is more coherence, obvious time savings and a distinctive feature of BlackBerry 10 which could make all the difference in some people’s eyes.
Another original feature is the multi-tasking which, for a change, actually seems to be ‘genuine’ multi-tasking. You manage currently active apps on the second screen, just after the HUB, which are presented in the form of mini windows of about a quarter of the screen, showing a mini-version of the active app. Each mini window offers the user the option to close the app. When I talk about ‘genuine’ multi-tasking, what I mean is that when you load a video on YouTube, for example, and then switch to another app, you can still hear the video playing in the background. This feature uses cutting-edge technology and seems to have been developed in a way that doesn’t slow down the overall running of the device. While we’re on the subject of apps, I noticed that there seems to be a maximum limit of 8 apps that can be handled by the manager. This is surprising, especially considering the large number of apps that are pre-installed on the Z10.
The final feature that I think deserves praise is the concept of creating separate personal and professional areas that co-exist within the same device. BLACKBERRY 10 is introducing the possibility of switching between a personal and professional environment, with personalized settings, apps and visual environment, using a simple swipe. This allows you to block the ‘pro’ profile from sending certain information, and even to block certain telephone functions. Basically, you can keep the two environments completely separate. This could well become the winning feature of the new operating system, provided that it finds fans and works perfectly.
Aside from these features, some other less significant elements have also come to my attention. In no particular order: the option to take photos in burst mode (with a good quality camera in other respects too), the virtual keyboard with its particularly interesting sophisticated predictive typing function, and the accessible and highly practical notifications summary on the HUB.
Finally, in spite of all these changes, BlackBerry have managed to retain some aspects of their identity which will satisfy those fans who have been there from the beginning. As well as BBM, they have also kept the sound of the camera’s shutter release, and the red LED for discreet notifications, all exactly the same as in the models that have been offered in the range in recent years.
Now is your last chance
Perhaps a bit solemn as a conclusion, but after the excitement that this type of launch can generate, let’s not forget that this is an emergency measure to get BlackBerry back on its feet at any cost after a pretty hairy 2012. In my opinion, this smartphone fits the bill with its quality design and basic functions combined with a number of clear innovations. Rather than mimicking other successful smartphones, BlackBerry is confronting them head on in areas where there is still room for improvement, where it is important to consider the explosion of mobile social media and the current use of smartphones as an everyday business tool. It looks as though BlackBerry fans and professionals who BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to work could well opt for a bite of the BlackBerry, rather than the Apple…
Satisfied with Maxime’s demonstration? See you on the orange.co.uk store to go into Z10 mode.