Mobile pioneer Research in Motion is fast approaching a crossroads on its long-term prospects. Due early next year, the company's BlackBerry 10 OS and related devices are a potential savior for the platform, and developers vested in BlackBerry expressed faith this week that BlackBerry 10 could indeed provide the much-needed revival.
That's good news for RIM, considering the developer purgatory its platform had become in the face of chief rivals Google Android and Apple iOS.
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"They're reinventing their platform," said Mauricio Angulo, a user experience consultant for Tesseract Space, which builds applications for the publishing industry. "The old platform wasn't going anywhere."
But the question is whether UI improvements, multiple development options, and good old-fashioned marketing will be enough to keep RIM in the game. "I hope it's not too late for them because this product is great," said Mobtapp's Sean Green, who has built a shopping application for BlackBerry.
UI, dev flexibility key to revival
Topping the list of positive improvements is BlackBerry 10's emphasis on graphically oriented apps.
"[The release] makes them relevant again because they've been falling behind," said John Arthur Lowe, a software developer at Jaloweplays, referring to BlackBerry 10's graphical emphasis.
Based on the QNX real-time OS, BlackBerry 10's "Peek" touch interaction, which allows users to get a quick peek at their online activities with a simple gesture, also received a thumbs-up from developers. "The Peek functionality is real cool," says Angulo. "I like the fact that they somehow managed to keep the experience local to whatever activity the user is doing," Green added.
Peek is part of a deeper UI paradigm in BlackBerry 10 called Flow, which is designed for single-handed use, controlled mainly by your thumb. In Flow, you don't switch among apps through a home screen -- though you do have a home screen to launch apps when desired -- but instead thumb through active apps and services by thumbing through them.
The Peek feature lets you use a thumb gesture to reveal alerts and updates in your current apps, such as seeing what new emails have come in while reading a specific email. The Cover approach has the BlackBerry Hub at its base level, which aggregates all your status and messages in one place. You can always peek at the Hub to see what's new globally, and then switch back to what you were doing. And you can open the Hub and use it as a launching point for whatever update is of interest.
The BlackBerry 10 UI is highly tuned to "hyperactive" users who want to quickly check on what's new without interrupting their main focus, said Vivek Bhardwaj, RIM's head of software portfolio. It's an approach modeled on the common BlackBerry users' behavior of keeping the BlackBerry in view under a table while in meetings while the user surreptitiously remains connected. That behavior relies on being able to hold the device in one hand and navigate it through the same hand's thumb, which is why the Cover UI and functions like Peak use thumb-based gestures.