As I mentioned in the previous three parts of musing about mobile technology, I mentioned that I didn’t care for Blackberry much, mainly because the interface and the hardware just didn’t gel with me. Since the new BB10 devices have just arrived in Australia, I decided that it would be an interesting exercise to see if this new software would be better than the old trackball devices. I generally have an idiot test when it comes to usability. If I can figure out how to get to all the important things and use them in the five minutes I have at JB Hifi before The Boss gets bored, it’s a pass.
Verdict? Yes, much better! Result! Although…it takes some getting used to because it’s a different take on the touch interface.
The main reason is that there are no physical home, back or search buttons on the bezel of the device. There are software icons representing functions once you’re in and the screen is not locked, though. The way you unlock it is from an upwards swipe from the bottom of the bezel. Then, switching from app to app or home screen is done the same way. I actually like it, simply because it acts the same way as a home button. The additional benefit of this gesture is the ability to take sneak peeks at what messages you might have received lately in the Blackberry Hub by adding a slight right swipe to the original action by pausing whatever you were doing previously and then resuming if you found nothing interesting.
One thing I liked the idea of, what the new touch keyboard where auto-complete word suggestions appear directly above the next letter so you can swipe up to move on to the next word. It’s actually quite a good system though it definitely takes getting used to. Everyone’s auto-complete appears above the keyboard, but the words are much bigger though they’re merely grammatical suggestions or commonly used words. Both approaches work, however there are simply more choices available on screen at any time on the Blackberry. Whether the context of those choices are correct at the time are a bit hit and miss. In the short time I was typing with the keyboard, the auto-complete didn’t necessarily give the next word I wanted. This can be said for any predictive typing keyboard, so it’s not a criticism, rather a new way of doing things.
The main interface itself is a Blackberry version of the icon grids used by Apple and Android with some graphical dressing but there are no Android style widgets. It’s clean, modern and colourful, but again, there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about it. However, once you dive into some of the internal stuff, it becomes very white and blue, just like the traditional Blackberry interfaces. It’s a decent change in the experience, but I guess you know that part of the operating system is all business and productivity.
Plowing on, some nice additions to the main interface are easy access to currently running programs in the multitasking window and the ability to directly close them with an “X” button on each program. I actually wish Windows Phone had this feature in the multitasking pane, because it’s a pain to go into the program and press the back button, then have to repeat the process for everything else.
All in all, I like the new Blackberry but the main concern is now whether the company can recover enough ground worldwide to remain a viable alternative. At least, count, Apple and Google combined hold over 90% of the smartphone market worldwide with Windows and Blackberry a toss up for third place and trying to gain (or regain in Blackberry’s case) market share and numbers. Either way, it will be very interesting to see what the future brings for all parties involved.