It’s difficult to judge the quality of a product or validity of a demonstration when taking an initial look at a yet-to-be released product. “New” and “ground-breaking” services in the tech world often fail to live up to their hype, or prove less effective in reality than in presentation. Keeping this in mind, we’d have to say that we’re still surprised and even impressed by some of the stuff RIM has been showing off at BlackBerry world this week. Even if what we’ve seen doesn’t live up to its first impression, we’ve at least seen the level of presentation that we’ve come to expect from the big players like Apple, Google, HTC and Samsung.
One of the more immediately promising developments was the announcement of the BB10 Dev Alpha handset. BB10 is the completely new QNX-based operating system (OS) that RIM has developed to replace the out-dated and failing BlackBerry OS. The Dev Alpha unit is a smartphone designed purely to get developers a head-start on app-creation for BB10 and is likely also intended to reassure potential developers that this time RIM will be fronting a truly top-end smartphone in terms of hardware.
Not much is really known about what the BB10 Dev Alpha has under its hood. However, we do know that it sports a 4.2 inch 768×1280 display. For clarification that’s a resolution superior to 720p and thus also crams in more pixels than just about every highest-end smartphone in the market right now.
RIM has also addressed one of the biggest challenges any fledgling mobile OS faces: app support. It’s absolutely key to get developers on board as quickly as possible when launching a new OS, as a lot of what we do these days with our smartphones goes beyond simple texting, talking or browsing. To help the initial stages along RIM has guaranteed that any developer who releases an official BlackBerry app on BB10 that make at least $10 000 in the first year, providing that the app itself makes at least $1000 without assistance. RIM plans to do this by reimbursing any dev that falls between the one thousand and ten thousand dollar mark. So an app that makes just $8000 will be reimbursed $2000. This is a solid-sounding approach and while it probably won’t be enough to attract the bigger names in app development right now, it could help assuage the fears of some of the smaller but still reliable publishers out there.
BB10 will also support some pretty slick-sounding multitasking, something that should be helped out by the Dev Alpha’s 1GB of RAM. Background processes are viewable at a swipe, meaning that it’s much easier for a user to simply glance at what’s running with more ease than in other OSes like Windows Phone (WP) and Android. A similar method can also be employed for opening recently-launched apps. We find this kind of thing promising, as it sounds like RIM is focusing on a fluid and intuitive user interface (UI), but is also coming up with its own new ideas and systems, rather than just copying from the competition wholesale.
In true BlackBerry style RIM also seems to have focused heavily on the keypad. There will still apparently be hardware keypad devices for all those die-hard fans, but the software keyboard looks pretty intriguing as well.
The predictive text function has the ability to learn and adapt to your hand movements, as well as the kind of language you usually use. It’s something we’ve seen before, but it’s good to see RIM introducing a modern software keyboard, rather than a catch-up model. There’s also a slick swiping method of switching between letters, symbols and letters. Swiping up and down on the keypad allows users to access the extra symbols quickly, rather than having to tap on a small button down in the corner of the screen. Swiping to the left will also delete the previous word, which is a function that we feel would definitely improve some of the typing options we’ve seen out there right now.
So far we’d have to say that BB10 looks promising, but we’ll hold off on judgement until more information is available. There’s still a long way to go until the full picture comes in to view and it takes more than just a good screen and fancy keyboard/multitasking support to make a solid mobile OS. We’re certainly hopeful that BB10 will prove to be the saviour that RIM so desperately needs but if it isn’t then the BlackBerry line has some tough times ahead.