What to expect in BlackBerry OS 10
For the last year, as RIM engineers worked to refashion QNX into an BlackBerry OS 10 might attract users whose expectations are now set by Apple's iOS and Google's Android, RIM's marketing team has been on a full-court press to keep the BlackBerry hope alive, with an endless series of BlackBerry Jam events across major cities and snippets of BlackBerry OS 10's capabilities and UI. If the product is as good as its marketing, the BlackBerry could be back.
But it won't be the BlackBerry you know and may love. From what RIM has revealed thus far, BlackBerry OS 10 will be a fully touch-oriented mobile OS, like iOS and Android. Some BlackBerry smartphones will have physical keyboards, but some will not. (BlackBerry OS 10 will find its way onto tablets, of course.)
The Peek and Flow UI appears to be more similar to the original WebOS that Palm debuted in its Pre series in 2009 -- before Hewlett-Packard bought Palm and destroyed it -- using the metaphor of flicking through cards. In the brief glimpse that RIM gave me in fall 2012, Peek and Flow indeed let me easily move among apps and, perhaps more important, contexts. Flow is BlackBerry OS 10's approach to switching among active apps with a simple thumb gesture -- as seen in WebOS. Peek lets you "push" a card slightly so that you can see related context, such as updates and messages, for what you are doing now. That appears to be a unique concept, as the notifications system that Android uses and iOS largely copied is meant to be a central repository of all alerts (which BlackBerry OS 10 also offers, called the Hub).
What seems very clear from what RIM has dribbled out is that this will not be the BlackBerry that users know. I believe that reinvention is what gives BlackBerry 10 OS a real shot at appealing to users. After all, there are clearly not enough users who liked the old BlackBerry as is to keep on that path.
The new BlackBerry also means big changes for IT. The BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) 5 management tool that most companies have deployed to secure BlackBerrys won't work with BlackBerry 10 OS devices. Businesses will need to buy a new BES -- BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10, or BES 10 -- when it becomes available this spring. (RIM has already launched parts of BES 10, but the complete suite remains several months off.) That need for a new management tool may put off many IT shops from adopting BlackBerry 10 devices, but RIM is hoping that BES 10's ability to manage Exchange ActiveSync (EAS)-compatible devices such as iPhones, iPads, and Android devices will soothe those ruffled feathers. If users swarm back to the BlackBerry, IT will too.