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BlackBerry bears new fruit


February 22, 2013
By Tom Rataj

by Tom Rataj

BlackBerry pioneered the concept of the “smartphone,” a combination personal digital assistant and cellular phone. It continues to be the primary smartphone used by enterprise and government users, mainly because of its built-in security.

Despite developing the concept and leading the market for many years, BlackBerry has been relegated to a niche player by massive changes in the now-consumerized smartphone market. Slow to respond to Apple’s revolutionary iPhone, introduced in 2007, it quickly lost market share, particularly in the crucial US market.

The often-times fickle and fashion-conscious consumer market strongly influenced the entire smartphone business, with many users jumping on the iPhone bandwagon because it was the latest must-have electronic accessory.

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Google Android-based smartphones arrived on the market in late 2008, further eroding BlackBerry’s market share by offering a huge selection of touchscreen phones in every price range, from numerous manufacturers.

Despite all this, BlackBerry is still the de-facto business communications tool used by about 80 million users around the world, including millions of enterprise and government users. It is the only smartphone certified for access to CPIC.

After more than a year of delays, BlackBerry is back with an entirely new line of excellent smartphones capable of competing with all other current makes and models.

{BlackBerry 10}

The company launched its first two new smartphones running the all new BlackBerry 10 (BB10) operating system (OS) at the end of January in New York City. Redesigned from scratch, BB10 is the first new mobile computing and telephony OS design since the original iPhone launch.

Entirely new, BB10 is built on the QNX OS, an extremely stable and reliable embedded OS used in automotive systems (telematics and infotainment), numerous industrial applications and aerospace applications, including air-traffic control systems and the International Space Station.

The first BB10 phone is the Z10, an all touch-screen model. The Q10, which has a mechanical keyboard and resembles a traditional BlackBerry, is expected this month. Additional models are promised within the next year.

{Z10}

The Z10 features a 4.2″ 1280×768, 356 pixels-per-inch colour multi-touch display, 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 2GB system memory and 16GB user storage (expandable up to 48GB).

Wireless connectivity includes quad-band 4G LTE, WiFi, Bluetooth and Near-field Communication (NFC).

It is equipped with two cameras: an 8MP auto-focus rear-facing (1080p HD video) and a 2MP fixed-focus front-facing (720p HD video).

Sensors include an accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope, GPS and ambient light sensor.

Physical connectivity includes a headphone jack and both a micro-USB and micro-HDMI jack for connecting to a computer, big-screen TV or projector. The phone is available in black or white.

(Interestingly, the Z10 bests the iPhone 5 in screen size, resolution, pixel-density, processor speed, system and user memory and connectivity. The Z10 also has the advantage of a user-replaceable 1,800mAh battery and user-expandable storage.)

What really makes the Z10 stand out from the crowd is an entirely new user-paradigm, replacing the old and stale “in-and-out” model found on all other smartphones.

It starts with the gesture-based concepts first introduced in the PlayBook tablet but takes them further by introducing new gestures, making multi-tasking in particular a far more efficient and fluid process. Many gestures start in the bezel area and proceed onto the screen.

For surfing the Internet, the Z10 features the fastest, most compatible web-browser currently on the market, fully supporting Adobe Flash, HTML 5 and other new web standards.

BlackBerry’s hallmark BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) app now also includes audio and video chat.

{The Hub}

Like a universal in-box on steroids, the BlackBerry Hub is the central location to access and manage all messaging functionality on the phone.

Multiple e-mail accounts, texts, phone-calls, voice-messages, BBM messages, conversations and audio or video chats, Twitter tweets, Facebook posts and messages and any other application with a messaging component can all reside here. There is no need to go to a specific app to view and respond to messages or to compose new ones.

The Hub is a very powerful tool, especially for anyone connected to multiple e-mail accounts or active on social media.

{Peek and Flow}

On all other smartphones, multitasking is an in-and-out experience where the user needs to close one app before opening another. BB10 replaces this with Peek and Flow.

Regardless of which app the user is currently using, when a new message notification arrives, they can simply swipe up and to the right from the bottom left bezel area to reveal the notification area and “peek” into the Hub.

If a new message is important enough to require immediate attention, the user continues swiping to the right to fully reveal the Hub and deal with it. If it can wait until later, the user just swipes back to the left and returns to the app they were using.

In the same scenario on other smartphones, the user would need to close the current app, then navigate to and open the correct messaging app to see and deal with the message. If it can wait, they would then need to close the messaging app and re-open the app they were previously using. Peek and Flow is much faster and more efficient in comparison.

{Keyboard}

One of the features BlackBerry has always been known for is excellent mechanical keyboards. Experienced users can often touch-type on a BlackBerry keyboard because of its tactile feedback.

The BlackBerry Z10 on-screen keyboard manages to replicate much of that look and functionality, but also introduces features that make it the best touch-screen keyboard on the market. It includes all standard features such as predictive/suggested text, autocorrect, multi-language support, custom dictionaries and more.

Its predictive/suggested text feature is unique in that it displays the text on the silver fret separating the rows of keys. To use the predicted/suggested word, the user simply selects and swipes it upward onto the screen. It is very fast and easy to type entire sentences by hitting just one or two letters. One handed typing is also quick and easy.

{Balance}

Built-in security has been BlackBerry’s forte and BB10 continues and improves on this. Its crucial FIPS 140-2 security certification ensures that it meets the strict security requirements of government and enterprise users.

With the strong bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend in the corporate world, security has become a much bigger concern. Many large corporations allow individual users to connect their own devices to corporate information-technology (IT) systems, which creates huge risks, challenges and potential liabilities.

BB10 devices accommodate this trend with a feature known as BlackBerry Balance, allowing users to run both personal and corporate work spaces on one device.

The corporate side is controlled through BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 (BES10) which offers 256-bit end-to-end encryption. It also provides complete Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM), making it possible to manage all devices (BlackBerry and others) having access to corporate systems.

{Applications}

The much over-hyped app market is one area where BlackBerry has traditionally been weak. At launch, BB10 offered more than 70,000 apps (more than any competing smartphone platform at launch), with most of the important big names either already available or coming soon.

{BB back}

BlackBerry is certainly back as a viable contender in the consumer market and a continued benchmark in the all-important government, enterprise and law-enforcement markets.

The Z10 is available from all major cellular providers in Canada for about $139.99 on a three year contract.


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