Wednesday was the beginning for Blackberry (formerly known as RIM)…. whether it was the beginning of its restoration to glory (at least a fraction of it) or the official beginning of the end remains to be seen.
I know that no matter what I will be using BB10 in some fashion. Whether it’s by updating the Playbook that I got for watching videos during my commute (and to hedge my BB10 bet) or getting the new Blackberry Z10. I am anxious to see if the new OS is up to snuff for MY standards. I’m not anxious because I think it’s perfect and utterly amazing and so I HAVE TO have it rather it’s because I’m afraid of what it is now and what it may longer be compared to the old models which I’ve grown accustomed to.
Things I love about the older Blackberry devices
In order to fully understand where I’m coming from you have to know what I love about the older Blackberry devices. You may dismiss it as me being nick picky but these are things that I truly appreciated about the Blackberry after switching to an iPhone 4. Most of the comparisons are to iOS which is not meant to be an iPhone bashing but it’s what I can honestly compare it to having used it for a long time myself.
1. Blinking red light. - It allows me to know and choose whether or not to check my phone for new messages whenever one arrived. I didn’t have to pick it up from the desk or turn it on, I just knew there was something new waiting for me. Maybe more importantly a simple glance and seeing no blinking light allowed me to continue on with what I was doing. Having used a different phone the past 4 months I have missed countless number of messages (emails, texts, Facebook) that I otherwise would have responded to in a much timelier manner with an old Blackberry.
2. Highly customizable alerts - With all the different sounds, buzzes, banners, and pop ups available on phones today it’s great to have granular control of how I was notified about everything. Perhaps I’m an oddball but all I need is for the Blackberry to be absolutely silent except for when I get phone calls, which I want it to ring and vibrate. For everything else the blinking red light and the red star icon on the individual app containing the new message was all I needed. Believe it or not there was not way to achieve this combination on the iPhone. I couldn’t get ring and vibrate for phone only and if I disable all sound notifications for every app except for phone I still get sounds in the iMessage app if I’m actively in the apps texting with another person.
3. Separate message lists - There’s a unified inbox that has all your email accounts in one list but you can also have each email account separated and have it’s own list. This allowed me to take action for all my email accounts at once or only deal with each one individually.
4. Ability to “Mark Prior as Read” - This a crucial feature for me. I can’t stand seeing the unread email icon because if there are any unread I tend to lose track of what’s actually new and what’s not. This feature combined with the unified or individual message lists help me sort about what’s important and what’s not.
5. Email folder redirection. - Configuring emails that are moved to certain folders by Outlook rules show up in my main message list on my Blackberry was sorely missed. I hate needing to manually check certain folders to see if new email arrived and then backing out of it to go back to the inbox on the iPhone.
6. Filters and rules. - Being able to stop certain emails from getting delivered to my phone using filters that I can set on the phone itself. This was important because as an IT professional I get hundreds of alerts if systems are down. I don’t need the same alert over and over again until the problem is resolved so being able to stop getting them after I am aware of the problem is helpful so that my inbox is not flooded and emails from colleagues are not lost in the mix amongst a sea of alerts during problems.
7. Music app - It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that email on Blackberry is superior than other platforms but I was very surprised by how much I missed the music player in my Blackberry as well. This is especially true if you’re a commuter or a person that walks everywhere to get around. Why? It has to do with the way you can control the music. Using your hands to skip tracks is to be expected but how you use your hands is where the difference is. With many other smartphones you have to look at the screen and tap/swipe in order to control the music or reach for the button on the headphone. No big deal right? With the old Blackberry I was able to hold my phone in my hand while in my pocket and just use the volume rocker buttons to control my music. No need to take my out my phone or my hand out from my pockets and reach for the headset button while I’m sandwiched between people during rush hour or as I was trying to sleep on the train. Another feature that I took for granted was being able to create Playlists on the fly while listening to music. This is especially useful if you can’t read the name of the song because it’s in another language or if you have multiple files with the same name (ie track 1). No need to search for the song and then add it to the playlist.
8. Facebook - Since using the iPhone I have noticed that Facebook notifications do not always show up in real time. Sometimes I would go a whole day before I find out that I have new notifications from Facebook. In this day and age many of use communicate strict through social networks with certain people so this is a bigger deal than most would think. Like many other iOS apps you need to open the app before data or updates show up and if you don’t have a data connection many apps would show up blank until you restore your connection. With the Blackberry Facebook app I got everything in real time and it even downloaded newsfeed content automatically which allowed me to catch up on the things I missed while I was in the underground subway.
9. Social Feeds app - This built in Social Feeds app in BB7 was intended to centralize other Social Media networks like Facebook and Twitter but I used mainly for RSS feeds. Like the Blackberry Facebook app it automatically downloaded content so that when I was offline I was still able to read blogs that I subscribe to.
Things that needed to be addressed badly on the old Blackberry.
1. Underpowered specs. - The hardware seemed to always be a generation or 2 behind which resulted in laggy performance (mainly for 3rd party apps). It was fine for the built-in OS components like email, web browsing (which was fine since BB6 in my opinion), camera and pics but was horrible for apps like Google Maps and Yelp. Perhaps it was related to the GPS requirement for those apps as it took forever for it to get a location and the app would freeze until it did or until it gave up. The new BB10 device specs are right in line with all of the today’s high end phones so this shouldn’t be an issue as of this launch but Blackberry can certainly not afford to wait another 2 years before releasing it’s next generation of devices if it wants to stay in the game.
2. Camera. - When they redid the camera in BB6 it took pretty decent pictures using the pause after the snap to allow you stabilize the phone before it captured the pic. But with my Torch and Torch 2 the camera just didn’t seem responsive enough and pics where often blurry especially while indoors or in low light.
Here are some of the new things that I’m looking forward to seeing for myself on BB10:
1. Of the “good” things about old Blackberry, the following have been confirmed to be in tact. - Notification light, Music app controls and playlist creation and Mark Prior as Read are back. So I’m really looking forward to regaining some functionality. This is probably the most important thing for me.
2. Gestures - I admit that devices requiring gestures do have a steeper learning curve but when it comes down to it there’s only a limited number of gestures that are available. It’s not like you need to do a Street Fighter Dragon Shoryuken motion to access an app. They are just simple left, right, up, down, gestures along with 1 or 2 combo (up and right or left) gestures. Once you get used to it navigating through the OS is so much more fluid. I found this to be the case with the Playbook and Windows Surface.
3. Better Camera - Most flagship phones now have a f stop of 2.0 which allows for better indoor or low light pictures without the need for the flash. I also hope that the shutter and the time between shots are much faster on the new phones. Time Shift and Storyteller look cool although I probably won’t be using it much. Having seen demos of the camera it looks like it will be close to what I’m hoping for. Yay!
4. Virtual Keyboard - The Torch allowed me to get used to a virtual keyboard at my own pace while still having the comfort of a physical keyboard if things got serious. I admit that the iPhones virtual keyboard is pretty good and is much better than the Torch’s but it’s still annoying for me to use for the most part. I HATE autocorrect. The demos of the Z10’s virtual keyboard lead me to think that I can actually use and LIKE it. The concept of flicking words as you see them suggested, deleting entire words with left swipes, and accessing numbers and symbols with a down swipe of the keyboard are all pretty cool and innovative approaches to the virtual keyboard. If it works as well as it’s intended it allows users to be much more fluid and LESS precise with their typing while still being accurate with their message. Goodbye embarrassing autocorrects?
What I’m on the fence about:
1. The remaining essentials from the old OS that have yet to be confirmed.
2. Activesync - BB10 will be using Activesync for most emails accounts that can support it. My concern is that it strips some of the email functionality that was so good in the old OS. The folder redirection, filters, and setting out of office from the phone being the main ones. Activesync does solve an old Blackberry annoyances by being actual to sync message status (read/unread) from the phone and the website.
3. Blackberry Hub - While I think it’s great to be able to do a slew of actions while remaining in the Hub app, the lack of ability to separate email accounts by icons has me worried. I don’t want to be restricted to a unified inbox but since there’s still a way to access each account individually within the Hub it may be just a matter of adjusting my habits.
4. Active Frames - There are definitely good uses for true multitasking capabilities, like listening to a podcast or video while composing an email. I think It makes much more sense on a tablet but on the whole I don’t think it’s essential for a phone. While this ensures that apps like Facebook and the browser will not require a data connection to view content like the iPhone does I’m not sure it’s worth the price of shorter battery (TBD) since I was quite content with the background auto updating in the old OS. Besides, how many apps really need to be “live” to that degree?
5. Battery life - In addition to the previous point this is the first LTE Blackberry. LTE devices usually suffer in terms of battery life. Several unboxing videos show a new charger that can use an extra battery to charge the phone while it’s still in use. This is different and innovative but probably means battery life is not as good as previous devices. TBD.
5. Maps - I’m surprised that Blackberry is not using Google for map data having seen the backlash Apple went through with the iPhone 5. But as long as the maps app is responsive and mostly functional I don’t really care for all the bells and whistles of Google maps. Besides the web browser is full HTML5 and Flash compatible so I can always use the website if I wanted to see 3D maps or Streetview.
6. Selection of Apps - I admit that I’m not a big app user. But with the iPhone I did go through a few phases of addiction with games like Tap the Frog, Doors and Rooms, and Frog Jump. There were a few really useful apps as well like the LIRR app, ESPN Fantasy Football, Embark subway maps, and a useable Tumblr app. I can certainly live without games and I can always use a browser to get useful information but it would be really nice of apps like these were available on the BB10 platform as well. Not a deal breaker but a nice to have for me. I know this is not the case of most as App selection seems to be Blackberry’s Achilles heel right now.
I obviously don’t have a new BB10 on hand to review and this is NOT a review but rather a history of my Blackberry use and what I hope BB10 delivers. Many of the tech reviews I’ve read state that BB10 lack the “game changing” factor to entice people away from other platforms. I have 2 problems with this proclamation. First, unless there’s a new form factor that’s not a handheld (ie Google Glasses) or a device that can change its physical form (ie Samsung’s OLED flexible smartphone) nothing coming into the market in the near future is going to be a “game changer” because it won’t be drastic enough. So to say Blackberry or any manufacturer has to have a “game changer” is setting it up for failure. Every phone can receive emails, listen to music, watch videos, play games, and make calls. But if a particular OS can address some of the specific problems that bother certain types of users that’s more than enough of a reason to switch in my opinion. In today’s mobile landscape iOS is getting dated and Android can be overly complex for a lot of people so I definitely think there’s room for another platform for those of us in the middle. BB10 is mostly well thought out and can be improved with updates. The bugs or oversights in the launch version are NOT set in stone and to declare it a failure because of these minor, fixable things is being short sighted and frankly just bias.
Another point that many writers are harping on is it’s not enough to make people want to switch to BB10 and therefore SAVE Blackberry. As if switching to a different platform (even a phone) is solely based on the platform itself. The reality is the rate of switch has more to do with a person’s ability to switch without penalties from contracts than it has to do with the OS itself. No doubt that an OS has to been good in order to warrant a change but it doesn’t have to be “game changer” good I think. If every single user who is on the fence about iOS or Android was allowed to switch without penalties I’m pretty confident that BB10 is good enough that a large percentage of those people would give it a try. Case and point that circumstances are more of factor that prompts a switch is when I stopped using my Blackberry because my company stopped paying for it. I was not going to pay an additional $15 dollars a month to have BES access to access work email on my Blackberry. So I switched to the iPhone in the meantime because it was functional enough for me to use despite all the things I knew would bother me about it and it didn’t cost me additional money to do so while I waited for BB10. With BB10 you have an option to bypass BES for corporate email so I should be able to go back to using Blackberry without spending the extra $15/month. For others it just about getting the latest and greatest when they are eligible for an upgrade. BB10 can certainly make a case for itself for that group people right now.
I can’t wait to get the new Blackberry because it’ll either be the last device that truly suits my demands, the rebirth of a company with many more good devices to come, or a run of the mill smartphone that’ll leave me longing for the Blackberries of old and ending my loyalty to Blackberry. Unfortunately I’ll have to wait another month and a half to find out but hopefully by then a lot of the early bugs will be fixed.
Geez that was long. God Bless you if read the whole thing!