While most tech journos and bloggers continue to fixate on the next big thing from Apple and Google, I've been intrigued by the steady trickle of leaked Blackberry 10 OS powered smartphone photos and specs making their way online. In itself, this isn't terribly surprising; BlackBerry's latest OS is seen by many as being a "make or break" move for the company that pioneered the modern smartphone.
Late last year while in Florida attending BlackBerry World, I had hands-on time with an early prototype of RIM's BlackBerry 10 OS-powered smartphone.
BlackBerry 10 OS
BlackBerry 10's home screen has 8 of what Blackberry call "Active Frames". In RIM parlance, Active Frames are very similar to Windows Phone's Live Tiles or Android widgets. The clever twist here is that unlike tiles or widgets, Active Frames are minimised running applications. Active Frames can display a thumbnail view of the app, or equally cleverly, a custom view of the app making them very Windows phone tile-like. As clumsy as this may sound, in practice translates into the ability to see what your phone is up to at a glance as well as being able to quick and seamlessly switch between running apps.
Another feature that could catch on with corporates was the ability to use both "personal" and "work" modes to display different icon layouts and security settings.
In practice this translates into applications from your work running in a more locked-down "work" mode whilst "personal" applications (that you've installed from the Blackberry application store) run simultaneously in a much less locked down fashion.
As with the Blackberry Playbook tablet, navigation in BlackBerry 10 uses lots of gestures. Take the lock-screen. Unlocking was as easy as swiping up from the bottom of the screen - even if the lock screen isn't being displayed. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen also takes you back to the home screen regardless of what you're currently doing with the phone.
Gestures aside, BlackBerry OS 10 also sports a universal in-box (which has e-mail, SMS, social media, and a call log) that is also likely to be pretty useful under real world conditions as it'll be easier to find and should in theory minimise the amount of mucking about trying to find SMS, Email or calls icons. From what I could see with the prototype, Blackberry had put a lot of effort into Getting Blackberry OS 10 right - it is after all RIM's best hope for survival as Google, Apple and Microsoft continue to duke it out for market supremacy.
New BlackBerry Hardware
Now, making things even more interesting as we near the late January launch date for OS10, photos have surfaced of the Blackberry 10-powered Z10 and X10 smartphones, one being a touch screen only device while the other appears to sport a BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard. RIM CEO Thorsten Heins has also said that RIM is likely to continue to support Blackberry 7 OS (which powers the current crop of BlackBerry hardware) and that buyers "might expect us to even build one of the other new products" using it.
Heins also hinted that any new Blackberry 7-powered hardware would be aimed at price conscious buyers with lower price points over Blackberry OS 10 devices.
I say bring it on, BlackBerry. The more players present in the smartphone ecosystem, the more competition we'll get. Greater competition should in turn drive innovation and this is of course great news for smartphone buyers.