BlackBerry 10

Although it has been pushed back until the first quarter of 2013, RIM hopes that BlackBerry 10 will be just the thing to reverse its precipitous slide into irrelevancy.

Certainly it hasn't halted a worrisome decent into insanity, as evidenced by their latest promotional video, in which company bigwigs extol the virtues of the new device via the enchanting medium of cheesy 1980's rock. But what about the phone itself? The BlackBerry 10 has existed in a nebulous ‘almost-complete’ state for some time now, and the internet is virtually replete with previews and early-impressions. Marketing thick with terms such as ‘Peek’, ‘Flow’ and ‘Cascade’ is everywhere. If you require a functional preview of the device, I can recommend this one from Techradar. I’m just going to talk briefly about a few of the things that have impressed me so far.

1. Work and Personal Modes.

I believe this will be of great interest to business users – and let’s face it, BlackBerry is unlikely ever to recover a significant portion of the retail market – and their IT departments. Sweeping down from the Home Screen on the new BB10 reveals a pair of buttons labelled ‘Personal’ and ‘Work’. These allow users to switch between these two modes, which are entirely partitioned off from each other.

In Personal mode, users can install any app they wish to, and use any file. Everything is of course encrypted, but security is otherwise minimal. From what I’ve see, the device cannot be locked down remotely.

In Work mode, there is a far greater degree of control that can be exerted by management. It can be locked down remotely, and wiped if necessary. Everything in that partition can be monitored, and only permissible activity allowed.

I believe this feature will be of tremendous value to those organisations determined to pursue a BYOD policy.

2. BlackBerry Hub

Conceptually, the BlackBerry Hub is not dissimilar from the notifications centres on Android and iOS devices. All incoming messages are unified into a single inbox. But BlackBerries have always been about the power of their messaging and email platforms, and RIM looks to have executed their take on this very well. The Hub will of course show updates from multiple email accounts, texts and BBM, as well as from third part messaging apps such as Skype or others. It will also include updates from Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter. I can handle multiple accounts, and will allow users to quickly switch between accounts, and to just show messages relevant to each.

It also allows you to access basic functionality depending on the type of message without having to launch a full blown app. For example, you can like or dislike a Facebook update without having to launch the Facebook app, if liking or disliking Facebook updates is something you can be bothered doing. You can also access the calendar from the Hub by simply swipe from the top down, without having to open the calendar app (similar to iOS and Android). It’s isn’t revolutionary, but from previews it seems to be the most robust and comprehensive implementation of a unified inbox I’ve seen.

3. Home Screen’s Active Frames

The BB10’s homescreen combines the flexibility of Windows Phone 8’s Live Tiles with the flexibility of Android widgets, while managing to look better than both. Basically, any app (according to RIM) can be set to run in a tiled ‘mini-app’ version in which it displays constant updates, assuming it is capable of such things. For example, you might have your calendar running as an Active Tile - and one assumes all business users will - with the tile showing any changes as they happen in real time. You can launch the full calendar app from there, if you need to go deeper. As I say, any app can be set to run in this mode on your homescreen, such as Facebook or the web browser. Up to 8 of these can be set at any given time, with four appearing on screen (the other four sit below and are accessed by swiping upwards). The most recently used app will always sit on the upper left.

RIM has assured us that having Active Frames constantly updating will only use a bare minimum of mobile data, and will not have a significant impact on battery life. Time will tell, and for now we have to take them at their word. In the meantime, BB10’s Active Frames looks to be the best implementation of this kind of thing yet seen.