The company formerly known as Research in Motion–and now simply known as BlackBerry–came out swinging at a press event Wednesday, announcing two new BlackBerry phones and showing off a dramatic software overhaul dubbed BlackBerry 10.
BlackBerry hopes to stand out from the iPhone and Android by making it easier to keep tabs on e-mail, messages and social media, and by building in powerful features for business users. But the company’s also trying to attract consumers with its own store for music and movies, and an app catalog that will include more than 70,000 apps at launch.
New BlackBerry Phones
The BlackBerry Z10 is a full touchscreen phone, with a 4.2-inch, 1280-by-768 resolution display (that’s a richer pixel density than the iPhone, at 356 pixels per inch), a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage, an 8-megapixel rear camera, a 2-megapixel front camera, slots for MicroSD, MicroUSB and MicroHDMI and support for near-field communications. It has a textured back surface, and curves gently around the edge, supposedly making it easy to hold and use with one hand.
The BlackBerry Q10 is meant to appease old-school users with a built-in physical keyboard. It has a 3.1-inch, 720-by-720 display, a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage and a MicroSD slot. Its back panel is a “glass weave” material that BlackBerry says is lighter and stronger than plastic, and exclusive to its hardware.
The new hardware is just window dressing for BlackBerry 10, a new operating system that’s a complete break from the crusty old BlackBerry OS of yesteryear.
One of the big goals in BlackBerry 10 is to keep all kinds of communications–including e-mail, messages, Facebook and Twitter–within easy reach. At any time, users can do a small swipe from the left side of the screen to peek at notifications, or swipe all the way over to see all their messages in one place, in an area called “BlackBerry Hub.” From this area, users can write messages, respond to friend requests and browse through status updates. A single swipe up from the Hub shows upcoming calendar appointments.
BlackBerry also hopes its keyboard will stand out–even on the Z10’s full touchscreen. As you type, you’ll see word suggestions scattered around the keyboard. (For instance, type “H-E,” and “Hello” may appear above the letter “L.) To accept a suggestion, you just flick upwards on that word.
For enterprise users, BlackBerry 10 offers a separate section of the phone just for business, called “BlackBerry Balance.” This section can be password protected and has its own apps, settings and inboxes. The idea is that users won’t have to carry separate phones for work and personal use, because BlackBerry 10 can handle both.
BlackBerry 10 has some other bells and whistles, like a built-in slideshow creator, a photo editor with Instagram-like filters and an app called “BlackBerry Remember” that’s basically a scrapbook for websites, photos, video and audio, with Evernote and Outlook integration. BlackBerry Messenger–a mainstay of BlackBerry phones–will support video chat and screen sharing. The camera on BlackBerry phones has a “Time Shift” mode that snaps several photos in a row, then lets users choose the best frame for each person’s face in the photo.
Tying all of this together is an interface that BlackBerry calls “Flow.” Instead of having home, menu or back buttons, BlackBerry 10 works around swipe gestures. For example, you swipe up to see a grid of recent apps, and swipe right to jump into BlackBerry Hub. BlackBerry says this keeps people from having to constantly jump in and out of apps, letting them get things done faster.
As for apps, BlackBerry says it’ll have 70,000 at launch, including more than 1,000 “top applications” from around the world. At the press event, the company rattled off some recognizable names, including Skype, Kindle, MLB.tv, Angry Birds, Jetpack Joyride, Rdio, Songza, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn and SoundHound.
Pricing and Availability
The BlackBerry Z10 will be available in the United Kingdom on Thursday, in Canada on February 5 and in UAE on February 10.
As for the United States, the launch plans are a bit murkier, but AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile are all on board. They should start selling the Z10 in March, and Verizon has already said that it’ll cost $200 with a two-year contract.
Launch plans for the Q10 are even less clear, but BlackBerry expects the phone to be available in April.