The demonstration was an impressive display of one-handed, even one-thumbed, interaction with the smartphone. And that fact may hint at RIM's screen sizing for the as-yet-unannounced BlackBerry 10 smartphones: small enough that one thumb can control much of your interaction with the phone.
But it also raises the question of whether end users who will have to learn new gestures like Peek, will find it as intuitive and "flowing" as Heins repeatedly claimed.
It may be: as shown by an almost throw-away moment in the demonstration when Bhardwah tapped with his thumb to bring up a dial-faced clock, pressed a glowing transparent circle, and rotated it around the clock face to set the hour. There were no additional taps, no text or number entry, no drop-down menus or selections. It was intuitive and smooth and simple.
Later Don Lindsay, vice president of user experience design, explained that Peek is one example of the new design priorities in BlackBerry 10, and of how this functionality is available to third-party software developers, not just to RIM's system-level apps.
BlackBerry 10 apps will fill the smartphone screen. Peek enables system-level information and alerts to be hidden from view, in effect, "underneath" the full-screen app. He also promised that RIM is changing the "start" experience for mobile users. Instead of pressing a button, and possibly unlocking the screen to check the time, users can press a thumb to the bottom of the screen and push up to wake "up" the phone, and automatically display time or other information. Drawing the thumb back down, just a continuation of the starting gesture, brings the phone back "down" into sleep mode.
Peek is also context sensitive: if you're reading an email, again in full screen, and the red LED light indicates a new notification, peeking will show you the underlying list of newest emails. You can deal with the new email and then return to your original one easily.
Developers at the Jam will head home with a bunch of new goodies, including the latest build of the BlackBerry 10 OS, and new beta releases of the full panoply of RIM development tools, including the native SDK and WebWorks for HTML 5 apps. There are also new interfaces unveiled for Bluetooth, NFC, camera capture, picture viewer file picker and other functions. RIM said the full range of developer APIs are not fixed and will not change "when we release our 'gold' SDK at the end of the year," said Christopher Smith, RIM's vice president of application platform and tools.
The company also released new versions of its Cascade Builder for UI frameworks, the Ripple HTML 5 emulator, and a plug-in for Microsoft Visual Studio.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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