RIM's BlackBerry 10 operating system is an incredibly important product for a company that has been struggling in recent months. We got a quick preview of the software yesterday, but wanted to get a more in-depth hands-on with it in order to get a better feel for the operating system that will be powering BlackBerry's future.
The Feel of Flow
BlackBerry 10's new Flow interface has been developed to allow users to seamlessly move between running apps without ever having to see their phone's home screen. During our hands-on we were able to check our messages, then move to the calendar and check for upcoming meetings, as well as any participants and their contact information all from one app.
Moving between the messages app and the calendar was smooth and without hiccups. That's an impressive feat considering this is still a developer build of the operating system. One of the issues we did notice was that some of the multitouch gestures used to navigate BlackBerry 10 required us to swipe across the screen more than once.
This, however, appears to be a result of a lip placed on the bottom of the developer device rather than an issue with the operating system itself.
The Peak feature allows you to fan out running apps to reveal BlackBerry 10's universal inbox, otherwise known as BlackBerry Hub. From here we were able to easily view all communications including text messages and emails, as well as social media updates from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. We like that this feature allows you to see all of your messages with the flick of a finger rather than having to open up an app and wait for it to load. All of your messages are just there.
RIM says BlackBerry 10's new web browser will have the best HTML 5 support of any browser, including desktop browsers. And while we weren't able to verify that claim, we can report that the browser is certainly fast. Scrolling through websites was a joy.
When we wanted to open a new page, we simply had to swipe from left to right to open up the options menu. From here, we could check out browsing history, open up a new tab, choose among our open tabs or browse our bookmarks. The browser also includes a reader feature that removes images and ads from web pages to make them easier to read.
The Time Shift camera app is one of the best new features to land on BlackBerry 10. What sets the camera app apart is its ability to take multiple pictures in one shot and then let users choose the best one. The feature is especially useful when you are taking portraits. You can choose to either Time Shift an entire image to capture the perfect moment, or select a subject's face and Time Shift them alone, to make sure you get your friends looking their best.
The camera app also allows you to focus on individual sections of the screen. To do this, we simply tapped the area of the screen we wanted the camera app to focus on and took the picture as we normally would. Overall, the BlackBerry 10's camera app is shaping up to be one of the most compelling and fun to use on the market.
RIM's BlackBerry smartphones are known for their physical keyboards, but with BlackBerry 10 the company is trying its hand at a new virtual keyboard. BlackBerry 10's keyboard has the same look and feel of other virtual keyboards, but has several key differences. First, the predictive text feature displays suggested words over the keyboard as you type, allowing users to flick words up from the keyboard into the text box.
You can also select up to three languages for use with the predictive text feature. So, if you're speaking to a Spanish speaking client and you start typing out a Spanish phrase, the keyboard will automatically recognize it and give you a suggested Spanish word, all without having to switch between an English and Spanish keyboard.
BlackBerry App World
Along with BlackBerry 10, RIM will also launch a new version of its BlackBerry App World app store. During our time with the Developer Kit, we were able to see a demo version of the store complete with category listings and search functionality. The store is not set to come online for another month and at that time still won't have all of the content that RIM expects it to, but it should be a good representation of what will be available in the future.
While we did see some movie and TV shows listed in their respective sections of the store, we were told that they won't necessarily be the titles that will be available. RIM representatives were also unable to provide us with the names of any potential app partners beyond the few that we saw during today's keynote.
So far, BlackBerry 10 looks like a good start to RIM's hopes of reinventing itself. Its Flow interface is fun to use and its Time Shift camera app is a blast. The BlackBerry Hub is equally informative and easy to navigate and should prove useful to users who spend the majority of their days sending emails and texts. Still, much will depend on how many developers RIM can get behind its new operating system.