BlackBerry 10: The RIMpire strikes back, but is it enough?

Credit: Stewart Wolpin/DVICE

Dean Wormer has shut down Delta House and expelled its inhabitants from Faber College. The downcast boys, however, are buoyed by Bluto before their beaten-but-unbowed leader, Otter, declares "I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture."

This describes — a bit too extremely, perhaps — the grandiose BlackBerry 10 introductory event this morning in the great hall at Pier 36 in lower Manhattan. Its simultaneous events in multiple cities including New York, Toronto, London, Paris, New Delhi and Dubai felt as if the company burned up its last cash reserves in one last spectacular blow-out, BlackBerry (which has officially dropped the RIM corporate name) attempts one final — perhaps futile — effort to avoid expulsion from the smartphone fraternity.

BlackBerry's long-gestating — it's already a year late — BlackBerry 10 OS is a complete remaking of the BlackBerry OS with some startling innovations. It's launching on two phones: the Z10, a typical touchscreen smartphone, and a hybrid touchscreen/physical keyboard handset, the Q10, designed to placate CrackBerry QWERTY lovers.

The Z10 will go on sale from many European carriers tomorrow, in Canada on February 5, but not until March in the U.S. from all AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, with price points depending on the carrier — but figure around $150 with a three-year (not two) contract. Details on the Q10 are sparse, but it should appear in U.S. stores in April.

The company also announced Alicia Keys as its global creative director, following a trend of naming celebs as creative leads.

BB10 Improvements

One of BB10's chief advancements is being able to move around apps without constantly hitting a Home key; instead, you're finding an app via a system dubbed BlackBerry Flow. With BlackBerry Peek, you simply hold-and-drag what's currently on your screen to see live apps behind. Just move one screen to open an app behind it or an app listed in a vertical column.

There's also BlackBerry Hub, which consolidates all your incoming text-based messages — email, text messages, instant messages, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, whatever — into one centralized inbox. You can respond to each message without opening the specific app. You can also press and pull down the Hub inbox to view calendar listings.

Other BB10 improvements include:

  • "True" multitasking: four live apps are presented in quadrants on the home screen
  • A contacts list that pulls in all live/active social networking updates, notifications, messages and activities in a historical timeline
  • One-thumb typing: on the Z10, the keyboard places word suggestions above the next letter you're likely to tap — just "flick" the words to type
  • BlackBerry Balance: swipe between a professional/work environment and a "personal" environment, each with its own apps and look — it's like having two smartphones, with one for business. A small suitcase icon designates work apps.
  • BBM Video: video calling from within the BlackBerry Messaging, as well as Screen Sharing while still chatting — one user can snap a photo and Screen Share it with another BB10 user.
  • BlackBerry Remember: Move items you want to reference later — videos, emails, voice notes, URLs, whatever, into nameable folder

BlackBerry World also will sell music and movies from all major and independent labels and Hollywood studios, along with apps. And speaking of apps, BB10 will launch with more than 70,000 — the largest catalog of apps for a first generation device, according to a company executive — including Skype, Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Amazon Kindle, SAP, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist and Angry Birds, and games from EA, Gameloft and even Disney.

BB10 devices

The touchscreen Z10, available in black or (in a shocking departure for BB) white, sports a 4.2-inch screen with 356 ppi and a textured rear cover for easier grip. Its case is not plastic, the company pointed out, but they then neglected to note what it is made of. The Q10 has a 3.1-inch screen and BlackBerry's famous keyboard.

But is BB10 and the two phones too much, too late? Or is BlackBerry's aim merely to stabilize its position with its natural constituency, mobile professionals, rather than try to topple Android and/or Apple?

BlackBerry has fallen from the dominant player in the smartphone market to just 4.6 percent, according to IDC. Even Microsoft, with all its resources and a crackling creative Windows Phone 8 operating system, is finding it hard to break the Android/Apple stranglehold.

We'll have more once we get our hands on one.

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