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The company formerly known as Research In Motion launched a redesigned operating system, two all-new smartphones and a "reinvented" company on January 30, and it marked the occasion by renaming itself after its product: BlackBerry. The new operating system, BlackBerry 10, and the new devices, the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10 (seen above, introduced by BlackBerry President and CEO, Thorsten Heins), are what analysts and industry watchers are calling the company's last, best hope of reviving a once-dominant mobile business.
Delayed by more than a year, BlackBerry 10 promises consumers an intuitive, gesture-driven navigational experience and a rich selection of content including music, video and apps from the BlackBerry World ecosystem. The question is whether consumers will take to the new BlackBerry 10 smartphones even as corporate bring-your-own-device policies are encouraging freedom of choice. The new phones won't be available to U.S. customers until March or April, depending on the model.
The key highlights of the operating system include a BlackBerry Hub that aggregates communication modes including email, social networks and BlackBerry Messenger texting. Messenger adds a Video Chat feature akin to Apple's Facetime feature but that also includes a screen-sharing mode, so users can share their mobile interfaces with others during a meeting. BlackBerry is promising more than 70,000 apps as well as video from eight major studios and music from "all" leading record labels at launch.
The BlackBerry Z10 is clearly designed to attract would-be iPhone or Android buyers. It's a fully touch-screen controlled model with a 4.2-inch, 1280 x 768 screen with 356 pixels per inch. The life of the removable batter is 10 hours of talk time and 305 hours on standby. BlackBerry announced February availability in Canada at $149 with a three-year contract. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon will all offer the Z10 in the U.S., probably in March, and Verizon has said it will charge $200 with a two-year contract.
The Q10 is a hybrid model with a 3.1-inch, 720 x 720 pixel screen and physical QWERTY keyboard aimed at traditional BlackBerry users. It will be available in the U.S. in April. Pricing was not disclosed.
For the corporate realm, where RIM has its deepest support, the BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 (BES 10), released January 24, delivers state-of-the-art security upgrades and a new BlackBerry Balance feature that segregates corporate and personal content on employee devices. Balance lets administrators control content and apps on the corporate side of the phone while letting users maintain control and have privacy within a personal space. If an employee parts ways with a company, admins can wipe corporate content and apps without deleting personal content. BES 10 also lets administrators manage Android and iOS devices from the same console -- a capability RIM first delivered in last year's BlackBerry Fusion release.
The company's challenges with BlackBerry 10 are huge. The company still has a huge base of some 80 million users, but its share of new smartphone sales dropped to just 4.6% in 2012, according to IDC. At first look, the new devices offer solid specs and a few novel features, but RIM has two major forces working again it, according to Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum. "Companies are no longer buying the majority of smartphones sold today, and individuals overwhelmingly choose devices other than BlackBerries when they make buying decisions," Dawson said in a research note.
Take a closer look at the BlackBerry Z10 and the Q10 and the new features of the BlackBerry 10 operating system in this slideshow.
The Z10 design aims to impress consumers eyeing iPhones and Android devices. It's a touch-controlled smartphone with a 4.2-inch 1280 x 768 screen with 356 pixel-per-inch resolution. At 5.11 inches x 2.58 inches x 0.35 inches it's slightly larger than an iPhone 5. It's also slightly heavier than the iPhone, though with its rubberized plastic back the Z10 doesn't have quite the same solid feel as Apple's phone.
The Z10 is powered by a dual-core 1.5-Ghz processor and has 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of flash memory with a hot-swappable microSD slot. There's an 8-MP rear-facing camera with 5X digital zoom, LED flash and 1080p HD video recording. The 2-MP front-facing camera has 3X zoom, 720p video recording and supports a new BlackBerry Messenger Video Chat Feature. Network connectivity includes 4G LTE. The removable battery supports 10 hours of talk time on 3G and up to 305 hours of standby time. The Z10 will sell for $149 in Canada with a three-year contract; it is expected to be available in the U.S. in March for around $200 under a two-year contract.
BlackBerry loyalists get the physical keyboard they're used to with the BlackBerry Q10. The keyboard takes up lots of real estate, so the screen is only 3.1 inches (720 X 720). The processor, memory and photo and video setups match the Z10, with a 1.5-GHz dual-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of flash memory, and 8-MP rear-facing and 2-MP front-facing cameras. Overall dimensions are 119.6 mm x 66.8 mm x 10.3 mm. The phone won't be available in the U.S. until sometime in April, according to BlackBerry. Pricing and battery performance stats weren't available at press time.
BlackBerry Hub aggregates all forms of communications, including email, BlackBerry Messenger and social feeds from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other networks. Calendaring is also integrated, so users can navigate from email messages to text messages to social posts and calendar appointments without returning to a main menu and going into separate apps. The Hub also pulls together content from company and personal profiles and social updates. If you have a calendar appointment with somebody you've never met before, you'll be able to see publicly available photos and profile information. If it's a friend who's in your social network, you'll see the person's latest posts.
The new operating system features a BlackBerry Flow navigation experience whereby apps and smartphone features are said to be easily accessible for multitasking. With left, right, up and down thumb gestures, you can move between apps, smartphone features and Hub communication options without closing down apps. You can move between multiple apps without losing your place in, say, a video, or without losing competed work in a productivity app.
People don't want to have to use separate devices for work and home life, so BlackBerry Balance, a new operating system feature, lets you create separate spaces for distinct uses. You can swipe between the work space, seen above, and personal space, or mix interfaces when work and home tasks overlap. Corporate administrators can control and, if necessary, wipe apps and content from the work space without touching content or apps in the personal space. In fact, BlackBerry says the personal zone remains private to the user.
BlackBerry has more than 60 million subscribers to its BlackBerry Messenger texting service, so it's eager to exploit that network. A new Video Chat feature, demonstrated above under mood-setting blue light at the BlackBerry 10 launch event, lets you go from texting into live conversation, supported by the 2-MP front-facing cameras on the Z10 and Q10. In a distinction from Apple Facetime, the Video Chat feature also lets you share your screen with another BlackBerry 10 user so you can do a presentation (much as you might on say, a WebEx demo) or show off photos.
The new platform has company-record app support for a first-generation platform, according to BlackBerry. There will be more than 70,000 apps available at launch, and the vendor says popular choices will include Skype, Amazon Kindle, Angry Birds, Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, LinkedIn, Jetpack Joyride, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and The Economist. Business apps will be available from Box, BMC, DropBox, Evernote, SAP and WebEx. The platform will see "thousands more apps added each week" after launch, the company said. The BlackBerry World online store will also offer video from eight major studios, music from "all" leading record labels and a long list of digital media and entertainment options.
BlackBerry demonstrated several features said to deliver a best-in-class keyboard experience on either the Z10 or the Q10. Language-processing software that works behind the scenes adapts to the user and the words and language used, according to BlackBerry. Start typing in French and it will understand and appropriately correct misspellings. Switch to German or English and the smartphone will switch, too, without your having to change any language settings. Another feature lists frequently used words in tiny print above letters on the keyboard, as seen above in German, so you can select whole words and add them to a message to speed composition.
Combining memos, tasks and context into searchable to-do items, BlackBerry Remember lets you attach Web pages, email messages, photos and documents to notes on ideas or projects. You can also create tasks, assign due dates and then track progress against goals. If your BlackBerry smartphone is set up with a work account, Remember tasks will be automatically synchronized with Microsoft Outlook. The feature also can sync with Evernote workbooks.
With the Balance feature for splitting corporate and personal space, the Hub for communications and the Remember feature, BlackBerry has stayed in touch with its roots and delivered business-minded productivity features.
In a surprise announcement at the BlackBerry 10 launch event, CEO Thorsten Heins introduces Alicia Keys as BlackBerry's new Global Creative Director, citing her talents as recording artist, author, film and theater producer, mother and women's leader. Keys says the BlackBerry 10 Balance feature is particularly appealing to her as way to help keep work and personal life in balance. She says she'll work with software developers, designers, carriers and users to bolster BlackBerry's music, entertainment and personal productivity capabilities.