BlackBerry banks on the Z10 to reinvigorate its fortunes
After two years of bad press for outdated phones and notorious outages that hammered its share price, BlackBerry has unveiled its long-awaited new operating system and smartphones.
BlackBerry 10 is at the heart of the turnaround strategy for Research In Motion, which on Wednesday renamed itself BlackBerry, a long-wished-for rebranding that asserts the name of the most famous product the Canadian firm makes.
It is as powerful an operating system as either Apple’s iOS, Google’s market-dominating Android and Microsoft’s Windows Phone.
It is quick, easy to navigate and impressively slick overall.
It’s like BlackBerry is all grown up now, but whether it can recapture market share is still as hard to predict as whether Nokia can do the same with its equally impressive Lumia range.
The first BlackBerry 10 handset – the Z10, which is a large 10.6cm touch screen phone not unlike the iPhone 5 or Samsung’s Galaxy S3, its main competitors – is superb.
It’s slick, fast and full of features that have been missing from BlackBerrys for too long.
The best of these is the improved browser, which is at last what you’d expect on a device that calls itself a smartphone.
BlackBerry’s App World now also offers many of the top apps: Angry Birds, WhatsApp, Amazon Kindle, as well as local apps from FNB, Nedbank, DStv mobile, News24 and that clever little start-up, WayTag.
Along with the Z10, a qwerty-keypad phone – the G10 – was announced.
There are millions of people who justifiably prefer the reassuring touch of those rounded buttons and the equally reassuring click movement each makes when you push them.
You can text without looking at the keys, you’re never at the mercy of autocorrect and it’s just plain faster.
Speaking of autocomplete, BlackBerry – which invented the qwerty keyboard and still earns royalties off all the other phone manufacturers who make them – has radically improved this function.
Start typing and it suggests numerous words it suspects you’re about to type. How it does this is ingenious, and better than anything else I’ve seen.
It’s slick. Yes, we’re talking about BlackBerry being slick.
And, speaking of which, the new navigation technology BlackBerry is punting in BlackBerry 10 is called “flow”.
Instead of a home button – the phone has no on-screen buttons at all – you slide your finger up from the bottom edge of the handset.
It reveals the home screen. Swipe left for the other apps and swipe right to see the last app you were in.
In most apps, swiping from the right edge on to the screen gives you the equivalent of a right mouse click.
Doing the same from the left edge gives you a bunch of options.
All your messages are integrated into a new stream called Hub, including email, Facebook and Twitter updates, and messages from LinkedIn and BBM – the stalwart of BlackBerry’s overall offering.
The chat service now offers voice and video calls with other BBMers with Skype-like quality.
BlackBerry 10 and the Z10 are impressive, but whether they can save BlackBerry won’t be known for at least a few months and it will be based on sales.
The other key question is how much data bundles will cost as BlackBerry 10 will not have the same R59 a month BIS service that made BlackBerrys so popular.
Rumours of 1 gigabyte of data for R100 abound, as do others that BBM and email will be included in a monthly subscription, while other apps will be charged for.
The new Blackberrys go on sale in South Africa next month.
»Shapshak is publishing editor of Stuff magazine. Visit Stuff.co.za