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BlackBerry goes next gen with OS 10 and two new devices

By Leigh D. Stark | 1:13 pm 31/01/2013

Once a market leader, the BlackBerry camp hasn’t had much movement in recent years, as the handsets struggled to compete with Apple and Android. Now, though, there might  be a fighting chance, as BB launches version 10 of its platform alongside new devices.

Launched in New York and then shown in Australia shortly after, the new BlackBerry operating system and handsets evolve things we’ve seen on the platform prior, while learning from some things that have happened since.

“Today sees a re-invented BlackBerry launching an entirely new mobile experience,” said BlackBerry’s CEO, Thorsten Heins. “We are thilled to be introducing BlackBerry 10 on the new BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Q10 smartphones, to deliver a faster, smarter experience that continuously adapts to your needs.”

At the top of the crop sits the Z10, which features a 4.2 inch display supporting 720p HD, 16GB internal storage, microSD slot, support for 4G LTE networks, and a battery capable of handing up to 13 days of standby time.

BlackBerry’s tenth operating system includes a whole heap of new features and is based on gesture controls, similar to what BlackBerry did in its PlayBook tablet. Like most touchscreen devices, there is less emphasis on physical buttons, with more happening on the screen.

The keyboard is one area where BlackBerry has apparently made some progress, with this version adapting to the words and sentences you write, eventually giving you quicker suggestions based on your writing patterns.

There will also be a place for you to keep your message, emails, social updates, and notifications, conveniently named BlackBerry Hub.

And there’s even a way to connect and separate what you do at work and home, with a feature called BlackBerry Balance, which allows you to switch between stuff you do at work – emails, files, etc – and the stuff you do at home, even going so far to lock it off when it’s the weekend, if you choose.

Overall, it’s a new device, with more than just business at its heart.

The camera supports a timeshift mode similar to what we’re seeing in actual cameras, that will fire off multiple shots as you’re taking an image, just in case you miss the smile or someone is blinking.

The front facing camera, together with the latest version of BlackBerry Instant Messaging, supports video chat, which itself can even make use of screen sharing.

BlackBerry has also updated the web browser, which will enjoy HTML5 applications with fluid gestures, while also supporting private tab browsing, a reader mode, and an easy way to share content.

And there’s an app marketplace, with currently over 70,000 apps, with games, multimedia, and business apps all sitting there waiting for you, while Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Foursquare apps come pre-installed on the devices.  And yes, Angry Birds is there, you don’t need to ask.

Globally, the launch partner for the Z10 is Vodafone, though Australians won’t be seeing the devices with this carrier, as only Optus and Telstra have been signed up at this time, with availability and pricing announced closer to March.

The second device, the Q10 (above), will evolve the Bold line-up, so if you like physical keyboards, you’ll be eyeing this one off, which should see availability in April.

Oh and there’s one other change for BlackBerry, and that’s the parent company RIM or “Research In Motion” is now to be known as BlackBerry. There. It’s done. You no longer have to remember that BlackBerry is owned by someone.

While we didn’t get to spend time with both of the handsets BlackBerry announced today, we did put our hands all over the bigger model which looks to take on the iPhone and flagship Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S3 and LG Optimus G when it launches here in March.

Encased in either a white or black plastic, the BlackBerry Z10 embodies a new look for the smartphone maker. While BlackBerry has tried touchscreen devices before, this looks nothing like either the Torch or Storm.

Instead, the Z10 almost looks like what would happen if an iPhone and a Nokia Lumia had a lovechild, with a design that incorporates the simple monolithic look each of the competing devices occupies, while also blending it with a lightweight polycarbonate body.

Even from a pre-production build, it’s clear that BlackBerry really has tried to evolve some of the ideas it first showed us when the PlayBook launched a couple of years ago, bringing with it a device completely dominated by gestures.

There is no home or back button in this device, with gestures across the screen from each of the four sides activating different functions.

Inside an app already? Swipe from the bottom to the top and the app will minimise, staying running but sitting behind everything.

Interested in seeing what apps you have available? Swipe from the right side and see for yourself.

It’s not an entirely new way of working, but BlackBerry seems to suggest that this makes it easy to flow through everything, moving between apps and services as if you were swimming through them, not taking large jumps.

There also isn’t a homescreen as such, at least not in the demonstrations we had, with your currently open apps all sitting in quadrants when you bring the phone back from standby. From what we saw, it’s better to think of these as work spaces that you want to use, or might have used recently, making it very easy for you to see what has happened in email, messaging, or on the BlackBerry App Store, and then deciding if you want to load it up.

From what we can tell, this is BlackBerry’s way of making a mobile work environment just that much more portable and easier.

There are some catches to this, though, with some of the features requiring access to BlackBerry’s Enterprise Server, a piece of software the company asks businesses to purchase and install in order to better make use of the devices.

For companies with a large number of BlackBerry devices, it’s probably not a hard ask, but smaller organisations may have trouble justifying it, even under a Bring Your Own Device plan.

All in all, BlackBerry’s new Z10 handset looks and feels interesting, but it is hard to judge, especially in the constantly evolving mobile climate of today.

The platform certainly brings with it some interesting features, it’s one that comes at least a year too late. This is what BlackBerry should have been showing off last year, and should have been competing with when it was making minor changes to the established Bold range of handsets.

Now it’s 2013, and while we have what appears to be a solid entry from a previous market leader, it will be a hard push to get it in with consumers and business professionals alike, especially with the multiple ecosystems already in play for apps.

Time will tell, of course, but with BlackBerry launching the products in March locally, customers will, at least, be able to see if these new devices are suitable for them shortly.

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