Here at CTIA’s MobileCon in San Diego, me and colleague Chris Velazco got to sit down with RIM’s Jeff Gadway for some extended BlackBerry 10 hands-on and feature demo time. We shot the uncut video above of the newest OS out of Waterloo doing its thing for over six minutes, and then he handed it over to us to poke and prod on our own for some quality time.
What we found was a mobile OS that has a lot of charm, and that actually felt pretty far along in terms of its level of completion (as you can see above, it can go continuously for quite a while without showing signs of pre-release jitters). I’d heard plenty about RIM’s gesture-based navigation “Flow,” but it’s hard to grasp the sense of rhythm you fall into with it until you’ve actually put it through its paces. Likewise, the camera features, including the ability to select better frames for individual faces and components of a shot, feel amazing in practice, and they have a clear use value instead of seeming like novelty gimmicks.
BB10’s predictive keyboard is also an extremely impressive feature. Gadway told us that engineering actually spent a lot of time getting the satisfying click sound just right, and worked to make sure that the keyboard was both responsive to key taps that occur in rapid succession and even overlap. It even learns, identifying commonly mis-typed letters and adjusting the hit zone for those keys over time so that if someone is consistently hitting R when they mean E, for instance, eventually BB10 will anticipate which they actually meant to hit, even if where they’re physically tapping doesn’t change.
Another big star of the BlackBerry 10 keyboard is its predictive capabilities. These shone in our tests, offering next word suggestions above certain keys before anything’s even typed. It’s actually a little frightening how well it can work, and could be good fodder for a linguistics graduate thesis in my opinion. Natasha has a good run down of specific features, if you’re looking for more detail about any in particular.
There are still some big questions about the OS, around search for example. We asked about how it’ll work across the OS and web, but Gadway said that part still isn’t being talked about outside the company. I also noticed some sluggishness when it came to loading the BB10 web browsers, and Gadway ran into some problems getting the camera app to load, though those essentially seemed to work themselves out.
Long story short, this is a mobile OS that can and does impress, and when RIM says it offers a fundamentally different approach to mobile computing than other options already available, that’s not just blowing smoke. Nor is it merely the PlayBook experience ported to a phone; it’s substantially better than its tablet precursor, in my opinion. But at the same time, webOS was also an impressive, unique platform that won a lot of early fans in the tech world, and we all know how that story ended. RIM is obviously in a very different position vis-a-vis the smartphone industry than was HP, however, so BlackBerry 10’s fate is far from a foregone conclusion.