After a 15-month tease, Research in Motion today unveiled the QNX-based BlackBerry 10 OS and two smartphones running it. The company also renamed itself BlackBerry.
The BlackBerry had once been the smartphone standard, but after years of ignoring Apple's iPhone and then Google's Android, it has fallen to less than 5 percent of current smartphone sales. Even the BlackBerry's stalwart market -- businesses -- now has largely standardized on the iPhone.
BlackBerry's bid today to become relevant once again is based on a major break from the BlackBerry past, featuring a highly graphical, touch-based user interface more reminiscent of the defunct Palm WebOS than the DOS-like traditional BlackBerry experience. The first units are expected to ship in March. All four major U.S. carriers will take preorders today, with prices to be announced later. Canadians will get the new devices in February, and Britons can buy them tomorrow.
[ Recap: How the BlackBerry fell so far. | Explained: RIM's BES 10 MDM road map. | Get expert advice about planning and implementing your BYOD strategy with InfoWorld's in-depth "Mobile and BYOD Deep Dive" PDF special report. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobilize newsletter. ]
RIM's pitch for BlackBerry 10 comes down to easier multitasking than iOS or Android provide. BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins made a swipe at iOS in announcing the BlackBerry 10 by noting that no Home button is needed in RIM's new OS to switch among apps. Instead, the Peek and Flow user interface that the company began demoing in spring 2012 lets users quickly shuffle apps as if they were cards, as well as quickly peek at various updates -- from social networking to app status -- via a short swipe gesture.
The BlackBerry Hub, like Microsoft's People app for Windows Phone, provides a single place to see all updates and go to the relevant apps to act on them when desired. You can also initiate tweets, emails, and other communications from the Hub.
The BlackBerry 10 OS also supports swipe-based text entry, similar to what Samsung offers on its Android devices, using technology licensed from Swype. In addition, BlackBerry 10 lets you delete text while typing via a quick flick to the left (a gesture familiar to iOS users but implemented here in text fields), and it auto-identifies the language you are typing in.