BlackBerry 6 OS, first appearing on the BlackBerry Torch 9800, delivers a familiar and solid messaging experience along with the typically excellent administration feature set when activated to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server, that should continue to satisfy enterprise customers. But the new consumer-oriented features break no new ground and likely won't attract new business at the expense of the competition.
BlackBerry 6 OS does a good job preaching to
the choir but probably won't attract many new converts. The new OS delivers a
familiar and solid messaging experience that now extends to social networks,
along with the typically excellent administration feature set when part of an
end-to-end BlackBerry deployment. But the new consumer-oriented features break
no new ground and don't stack up well with competing platforms.
With BlackBerry 6 OS, Research In Motion was
squarely focused on delivering new features and services that would
consumers and end users-much as Microsoft is trying to do with the
soon-to-come Windows Phone 7. eWEEK Labs' tests found RIM did a good
job not losing
touch with its core audience while delivering these enhancements, as
company continues to deliver a similar experience to users and
for corporate messaging and enterprise manageability. Indeed,
BlackBerry 6 OS
remains a solid platform for enterprise business customers,
particularly on the
management side of things.
However, I see little inside the OS that would
generate enthusiasm and attraction for a new audience. To be clear, the new
features are nice to have and make for a more modern smartphone experience
from the BlackBerry, but other competing devices and mobile platforms do a
better job of it. While I suspect these improvements will help staunch RIM's
customer bleed, mollifying many current customers, I doubt the platform
will do much to drive new consumer activations.
When it comes to central administration, Blackberry
6 OS behaves much as prior BlackBerry versions have. As I noted in eWEEK's
tests of the first Blackberry 6 OS device (the Torch 9800), the device slid
seamlessly into our BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0.2 infrastructure. I found
my standard, default device policies worked without a hitch. Password lock and
complexity settings, device feature lockouts (for Bluetooth or camera settings,
for example), WiFi configurations and wirelessly pushed application sets all deployed
successfully, with no modifications required.
I also noted that remote access to protected
file shares-a feature introduced in BB 5 OS-worked equally well in version
While my BES infrastructure is fully up-to-date, RIM representatives make clear that BB 6 OS devices should work equally
well with previous versions of BES 4.x and 5.x. However, 5.0.2 does offer some
policy controls not available in previous versions-such as controls for the
new BlackBerry Podcasts application. Also, 5.0.2 will be the first BES edition
that adds corporate support for personal BlackBerry devices (a feature that
should be supported on the client side of things by the end of the year).
On the device side of things, BB 6 OS
introduces a number of enhancements to help bring users closer to their
data-whether that information is on a device or on the Web.
Like BB OS versions, the BB 6 OS highlights
incoming messages (e-mails, texts, Facebook messages and call log events) in a
Notification bar along the top of the screen. With version 6, users can click
on the notification bar to access an overlay screen showcasing the most recent
messages of each type to get a better at-a-glance perspective on what's new. I
liked how easy it was to toggle between the home screen and the overlay without
needing to change the overlay or requiring a customized theme. However, I was
disappointed that I could not access the overlay while using an app, as I first
needed to navigate back to the home screen.
In a nod toward the rise of social networking,
the new Social Feeds application aggregates content from the user's Facebook,
Twitter and configured instant messaging accounts and alerts to the
Notification bar of incoming items. While I found Social Feeds provided a nice
overview stream from all my various communities, the app also proved redundant
and extraneous. Clicking on an item in the stream within Social Feeds takes the
user back to the BlackBerry-native application for the post (like the updated,
but still comparatively terrible BlackBerry Facebook app). And most of the
underlying applications also alert independently to the Notification bar, as
well, making things quite cluttered.
The home screen is now broken into five distinct
screens accessible by side scrolling. While the All screen is most analogous to
older BlackBerry OS versions--on the Torch, a jumble of 38 applications and
settings organized as if by tornado-there are now four other screens for
simplified navigation. The Frequent screen dynamically organizes icons,
migrating the most commonly used applications to the top. Favorites, meanwhile,
allows the user to define their own set of common applications. Additional
screens for media and downloads round out the set.
As before, users can modify the All screen with
the familiar process of using the BlackBerry key and on-screen menus to create folders
and move things around. Even though the touch controls in BB 6 OS were much
better on the Torch than for previous models such as the Storm, the touch feature
could not be used to edit screen layout, which I thought was a significant letdown.
Without a doubt the most welcome improvement in
BlackBerry 6 OS is the new Webkit-based Web browser. Although it breaks little
new ground when it comes to mobile Web browsing, at least BlackBerry finally
has an intuitive, well-organized, built-in browser. I hope never to see another
"Request Entity Too Large" error from a BlackBerry again.
Search is vastly improved, taking a hint from webOS and allowing users to search on the device or on the Web simply by starting
to type on the home screen. Built-in intelligence figures out by the keys
pressed that the user is not trying to dial the phone, and the OS pops up
application icons possibly relevant for the search. By pressing on one of these
icons, the user can filter the search by application-filtering down to just
e-mail, calendar, YouTube or Google Web search, for instance.
Several terrible user experiences from previous
BB OS iterations remain, unfortunately. The
Exchange mail experience is still woefully incomplete if the device is not
connected to a BES, still lacking calendar, contact and task synchronization.
I was also puzzled why RIM would change certain
hotkey functionality in the e-mail, which could serve to confuse longtime
BlackBerry users moving to the new OS. I expect that RIM will continue to offer
models running BB 6 OS that don't have a touch screen, so hotkeys will continue
to be necessary for fast access around the device, but in version 6, RIM made
some small but annoying changes. For instance, I found that RIM reversed the
functionality of the "P" and "N" hotkeys in the mail application, so now pressing
"P" moves up the list, whereas the same key would move down the list in version
I was also extremely disappointed to see that
BB 6 OS still requires an operating system reboot when upgrading or removing
third-party applications-a major detractor given how long BlackBerrys
typically take to fully reboot.
Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at email@example.com.