During the opening keynote for Research in Motion's BlackBerry World 2012 conference, followed by some hands-on time with the device itself, RIM introduced its first real BB 10 piece of hardware. It is a very early "alpha" stage device, and it runs not the true and finished BB 10 OS, but rather the PlayBook OS2 version of QNX.
The company is still working on the core OS, and doesn't anticipate its completion until later in Q3. In the meantime, CEO Thorsten Heins made clear that the developer device is running the full "application framework" that will be part of the finished operating system. The goal of the device is to provide the necessary platform for developers to gain intimate knowledge of the BB 10 development process and what the new OS is actually able to deliver for applications in terms of true multitasking, multi-processor support, high resolution screen display capabilities and related UI capabilities.
That is all well and good - most of what BB 10 will deliver has already been fairly well documented, but it is clear that it is now becoming a much more tangible and "touchable" operating system. We highlight "touchable" here because the key feature of the developer phone is that it sports no keyboard. It is a full touch device with no sliding keyboard hidden anywhere to add bulk to its otherwise slim and trim feel.
Heins noted during his keynote that RIM has spent an extraordinary amount of time on virtual keyboard R&D design - and then demonstrated some very nifty capabilities. A key aspect of the new virtual keyboard is the ability to learn how a user actually types and where a user's fingers tend to land relative to the keys represented on the screen. As the device learns the users habits it essentially develops a user profile and helps the user to type more accurately.
Seeing a keyboard-less BlackBerry device as the device of choice for
developers is very welcome news. And hearing about RIM's efforts to improve the virtual typing experience is music to the ears of those of us who have decided that keyboards are no longer a necessary piece of any mobile device
. What was demonstrated at BlackBerry World is a far cry from the misbegotten and truly ill-designed SureType keyboard of old (think back to the original Storm devices) - when RIM clearly had no clue about virtual keyboards.
This is a clear step forward for RIM and one that is likely to be very visible as a "desirable" user experience feature. To Mobile Enterprise it suggests that there is finally a real changing of the guard taking place relative to hardware design.
We need to make clear that RIM is not, by any stretch of the imagination, abandoning the physical keyboard. Heins made it clear during a subsequent meeting with the media that this is the case. Following his keynote some had inferred that RIM was abandoning the physical keyboard. At this point in time that would be neither desirable nor smart for RIM to do for itself or for loyal and diehard physical keyboard enthusiasts. That time will come but it won't happen any time in the next five years or so.
So then what of the device itself? It's slim - or at least it gives the impression of feeling slim. It looks very much like an iPhone in fact, but is about half an inch wider and perhaps just a bit less than three quarters of an inch taller, and has a somewhat larger screen than the iPhone. It is clearly not a design tied to old Blackberry designs, and this gives us a great deal of hope - even confidence - that RIM is on the right track to delivering the kinds of hardware designs that will capture the user's imagination.
We need to be careful to be clear that this is an "alpha" device - a prototype that will in all likelihood never see the light of day beyond the developer community. But it hints very strongly at what the near future holds for BlackBerry loyalists (their loyalty is likely to finally be rewarded) and for RIM's ability to recapture both new users and most importantly lapsed users.
Heins demonstrated - well, in truth merely wetted one's appetite for - a very cool
looking "floating" multi window capability. The device he had on stage during his keynote was running an actual OS 10 version of the software (that wasn't available on the devices we had hands-on time with), and it is clear from this short and simple demonstration that the new UI and core operating system will indeed have some true ground-breaking technology to put on the table in Q3 2012.
All in all, while Heins didn't elaborate or in truth even really hint at what the hardware lineup overall might look like when BB 10 launches, we've gotten enough of a glimpse to state that RIM is on the right track. And this is true from both a hardware and software perspective. We will need to give RIM breathing room until Q3 comes around. The company has earned it.