ORLANDO, Fla.Imagine if you will a BlackBerry with no physical keyboard, but with an improved keyboard none the less. Or imagine a BlackBerry that has a suspicious resemblance to Windows Phone 7 software, but doesnt run Windows. Then consider a BlackBerry that multitasks and, while its at it, remembers your typing style and word usage. Sounds a little frightening, doesnt it?
But that active tiled interface, the ability to have multiple apps open at the same time and a keyboard that knows what you might type next are all part of the new BlackBerry 10 OS demonstrated by Thorsten Heins, CEO of Research In Motion, at the BlackBerry World conference here.
While the actual device being demonstrated by Thorsten is a prototype development platform that in its present form will never see the light of day as an actual product, it did provide a look inside what RIM thinks will make its BlackBerry smartphone the hot-seller it needs it to be to save the company.
Right now, BlackBerry sales have declined to the point where the once-dominant smartphone maker has sunk to a weak third in the marketplace. While the decline has been placed at the feet of the companys former CEOs and its corporate culture that Thorsten has already vowed to change, RIM still has a long way to go to even come close to its former glory.
As he began theBlackBerry 10 demonstration in a staged event vaguely reminiscent of Steve Jobs and the iPhone, Thorsten clearly had high hopes for the device. He talked about how it was critical for RIM to hold on to the core users who have always depended on BlackBerry smartphones and on the need to create a device that does what other smartphones cant do. The first glimpse of the new BlackBerry showed that, indeed, RIM was taking a different approach to design. This was no iPhone clone.
On the other hand, it clearly has to remind the user of Windows Phone 7, with its active tiled interface, the way you scroll to see new tiles, the appearance of the unified inbox and the flow of the operation. However, RIM has made changes of its own, especially in terms of the typing interface thats so important to BlackBerry users.
While BlackBerry 10 is designed to use a touch-screen keyboard, the designers have made the keys significantly larger. Whats more, the typing interface is designed to learn the users typing style and word usage.
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Because of this, the keyboard software will present a choice of anticipated next words over the keyboard so that the typist can simply swipe the entire word on to the message being generated. The idea, according to Thorsten, is to retain the BlackBerrys famous thumb typing, but to make it faster and more efficient. Your time is precious when youre mobile, he said.
The device that Thorsten used in his demo was a fairly generic touch-screen phone, and while it was an attractive device, its not the product that will actually be shipped as the first BlackBerry 10 device. Unfortunately, despite the combined efforts of the eWEEK team on-site in Orlando, we couldnt squeeze details of the actual device out of RIMs employees.
Thorsten did say that RIM would reveal more about the BlackBerry 10 devices in a few months, and more about the full operating system around the same time. But the close resemblance to Windows Phone 7 is a little uncanny. The first words voiced by some of the highly experienced tech media contingent at the event were, Its Windows! But that wasnt the case. The good news is that BB10 isnt yet another iPhone clone. Whether theres bad news remains to be seen.
And that, of course, is the big question for RIM. The first glances at BB10 are encouraging. But asForbes writer Brian Caulfield pointed out during a conversation in the BBWC pressroom, its not the basic idea, its the execution. Right now, with the prototype phone and the developers alpha software, the execution looks like it may have potential.
But theres another question beyond that. Will BB10s potential be realized well enough by the production versions of the operating systems and smartphone models to enable RIM to hit the market home run that Caulfield says the company so desperately needs? Right now, its too early to tell.
The company has shown some tantalizing details, including its next-generation keyboard software and a new camera application that showed up in a fleeting demo. There is also the promise of multitasking that will enable users to slide app screens around to access other apps in real time. But theres more to a smartphone than a bunch of cool details.
RIM, of course, knows this andeven released a video glimpse so we can see just how cool the company thinks BB10 actually is. But the videos and the assurances that RIM has sound plans for the future dont really matter nearly as much as how smartphone buyers react when the new BlackBerry is released near the end of 2012.