As it stands, most of BlackBerry 10 is still shrouded in mystery. Not even the Dev Alpha devices that will be made available to developers offer a glimpse of RIM’s new software — they’re running a modified version of the PlayBook OS instead.
All that said, RIM hopes to whet our appetites with glimpses at some of the nifty little touches that BlackBerry 10 will sport when it sees a widespread launch later this year. TechCrunch went to Waterloo and met with Vivek Bhardwaj, RIM’s Head of Software Portfolio, who took a few moments to give us one such sneak peek — an early look at BlackBerry 10’s keyboard, still a work in progress.
Fine, it doesn’t sound like the most thrilling way to spent 15 minutes, but let’s not forget that messaging and typing have always been a big part of the BlackBerry DNA and it isn’t exactly the kind of thing the company can afford to screw up.
“We feel that no one does this well,” Bhardwaj said of mobile typing.
Thankfully, the keyboard doesn’t disappoint. On the all-touch Dev Alpha device, the keyboard is large and nicely-spaced, with a small gap in between each row to help minimize errant taps. Even at this stage, everything seemed nice and fluid which is a definite plus when the keyboard leans on a few additional touch gestures to work properly.
Swiping to the left across the keyboard deletes your last input for instance, while swiping up changes to the numeric/symbol keyboard. That same swipe up gesture is used when the keyboard attempts to guess the word you’re typing — according to Bhardwaj, users will be able to send those guessed words flying into their messages by swiping from where the word appears over keys.
Normally, it would take a little time for the keyboard to store and recognize specific words that a person may use often, but Bhardwaj notes that there’s a way to jump-start that process.
“It’ll basically do a scan of all your personal history, your email, your SMS, Facebook, Twitter — basically every conversation you’ve ever typed,” he said. One this process is complete, the device will have a solid starting point for the user’s linguistic quirks, though he didn’t mention if users could opt to skip the scan.
Not all of the changes will be immediately apparent to BlackBerry users — in fact, one such improvement is meant to be all but invisible to people pecking out their day’s messages. Bhardwaj revealed to us that there is in essence a second, invisible keyboard that conforms over time to how a user types.
Let’s be honest: we’ve all been there. I suffer from a condition I like to call “beefy thumb,” which renders a solid chunk of my text messages incomprehensible to all but my close friends thanks to mistyped letters. With that second keyboard in place though, the boundaries of each key will subtly change to ensure that users are actually hitting the keys that they intend to.
It sounds like a minor addition, but the impact could be a big one for users — they won’t care how or why they’re getting better at typing, just that they are. RIM is making it a point to woo go-getters who can’t live without quick and accurate messaging, so the notion of a keyboard customizes itself to each user has the potentially to be a real crowd pleaser. Of course, keyboards alone do not a great platform make — Bhardwaj promised that the keyboard would be one of a few aspects that would get the demo treatment during the BlackBerry World keynote, so stay tuned for more.