After months upon months of delay, RIM officially launched its BlackBerry 10 operating system this morning.
Well, actually, that’s not quite true. BlackBerry launched the BB 10 OS today, as the company once known as Research in Motion has renamed itself “BlackBerry” as part of its continuing efforts to revitalize its business.
With that out of the way, CEO Thorsten Heins and company went on to demo the OS that they hope will do that revitalizing, showing off a variety of the platform’s key features on its newly-announced Z10 and Q10 handsets.
One of the most critical complaints with BlackBerry 10’s predecessor was its lacking app catalog, which was especially barren when compared to the major players over on iOS and Android. BlackBerry seems to have taken these gripes serious with BlackBerry 10, as it announced that over 70,000 apps will be available in the revamped BlackBerry World store when the OS launches worldwide over the coming weeks.
Big names like Skype, Kindle, WhatsApp, Rdio, Dropbox, ooVoo, ESPN, SAP, Cisco, Electronic Arts, Rovio, and many others will all be lending their support for the platform, which BlackBerry (not RIM) hopes will provide a better mixture of multimedia, business, and gaming content than before. It’s important to note that BlackBerry said that many of these apps were said to be “committed” to the platform, so it’s unclear whether or not they’re officially out at the moment. Apps like Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, ESPN Scorecenter, and others are confirmed to be available from the get go, however.
In fact, old standbys like Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, and LinkedIn are actually built into BlackBerry 10 itself. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn messages are combined with linked email accounts and other message types in an attempt to give users their notifications in one place, the BlackBerry Hub. Evernote and Outlook, meanwhile, are integrated into BlackBerry Remember, a new notetaking feature that lets users save relevant Web pages, emails, voice notes, and the like to keep on top of things.
BlackBerry Messenger has been revamped too. Voice chat and video calling look to be a major focus of the new BBM, and a new “Screenshare” feature lets users directly display what is happening on their screens with others in real time. That would make things like sharing photos and documents much simpler in theory, and overall the whole service seems to be aiming at preexisting video chat apps like its newest partner, Skype.
Other showcased features included BlackBerry 10’s new keyboard, which, on the Z10 at least, suggests words above certain letters as words are being typed. Those suggested words can then be swiped into the message through a simple flicking motion. Enhancements to multi-language texting and autocorrect were also touted. Aesthetically, the keyboard looks a little bland at first glance, but the added functionality may very well suit the needs of most users.
BlackBerry 10’s camera was also showcased, taking pictures that looked decent but unspectacular during the demo. It does come with various filters, effects, a “Time Shift” burst shot feature that lets users manipulate images, and a new “Story Maker” video and slideshow creation tool.
BlackBerry Balance, meanwhile, gives the phone something of a split personality. It divides the OS into “personal” and “business” sections, allowing each to have its own wallpaper, apps, and other such features.
BlackBerry was big on the fact that everything is done in real time; swiping in one direction will bring up one’s personal calendar or inbox, for instance, and can be done while still running a video or other program at the same time through what it calls “BlackBerry Peek.”
It’s probably too early to confirm whether or not BlackBerry 10 will be the gamechanger Blackberry needs it to be. App support, especially at launch, will still be far behind Apple and Google’s mobile behemoths, and it’s possible that the company’s delay in launching the OS forced its ship into sailing entirely. But the features showcased today do appear to be marked upgrades over BlackBerry 7, which is expected but very much welcome.
BlackBerry 10 will be launching on its first two flagship devices, the Z10 and the Q10, in the coming weeks. The Z10 will roll out tomorrow in the UK, next week in Canada, and sometime in March here in the US. The Q10, meanwhile, is expected to hit the US sometime in April. In a post-event Q&A, Heins said that BlackBerry plans to upgrade all of its existing BlackBerry Playbook tablets to BlackBerry 10 as well.
Instant reactions to the big reveal have been mixed. Adam Leach, principal analyst at analyst firm Ovum, says that BlackBerry 10 and its devices will offer more than enough “nice new features” to please the BlackBerry faithful, but that still won’t be enough to attract many new users.
“Blackberry has rightly focused on insuring that the Blackberry 10 devices have a large catalogue of content and applications which is now essential for any modern smartphone, and achieving 70,000 applications at the launch of a new platform is good start,” Leach said.
“However, Ovum believes that despite a well-designed Blackberry 10 platform that will certainly attract short-term interest from existing users, the company will struggle to appeal to a wider audience and in the long-term will become a niche player in the smartphone market.”