BB10: Is BlackBerry alienating the loyalists ? Yes and No.

BB10 is surely different, fresh and more modern compared to the earlier versions. But, how well will the ground-up change go with the existing Blackberry user-base?

Published Date
06 - Feb - 2013
| Last Updated
06 - Feb - 2013
BB10: Is BlackBerry alienating the loyalists ? Yes and No.

If till now you held the opinion that BlackBerry was bound to fail anyway, despite BB10, you would be forgiven. After all, you were looking at the trends, something that had seen the once powerful smartphone maker come down to single digit market share globally, in the face of some serious competition. However, with BB10, BlackBerry has done something most people did not expect it to do – sort of alienate the core BlackBerry user group. Or is it? While we are yet to get our hands on a BB10 device, the global tech media reports seem to suggest a clear and distinct shift from the traditional BlackBerry user experience. Let us look at some of the key UI changes and how they signal a major shift compared to the older OS. We have taken excerpts from some of the popular tech media sites to give you an overview of what reviewers have to say on the major UI changes that the new BB10 OS offers.

First, let us look at the home screen. There will be a maximum of 8 Active Frames, which are essentially the applications you have opened and sent to the background. Across the three home screens, these Frames will act as widgets. Swipe left on the primary screen and you see the app list. For starters, this might look rather complicated to the typical BB user who has grown up and become used to a rather simple first screen.

“Only four active frames can fit on the screen at a time, so you'll need to scroll down to see the rest – which all seems a little pointless, since you can just as quickly swipe sideways to access the app list and launch the app you want from there. When you're in an app there's no back button. Instead, with BB10 you use a gesture to exit applications by running your finger up from the bottom of the screen. While this is easy to do, those who are already familiar with other smartphones will find the action pretty unnatural, and it takes a while to get used to the new way of doing things on BlackBerry 10.”

-John McCann, TechRadar

There is no doubt that the new home screen design is rather eye catching, and with some polishing, will surely be quite functional. At the moment, it is a learning curve for most people, unless you have been using a PlayBook all this while.

The issues with the way apps are handled is something that has been criticized by pretty much everyone. There seems to be no method to the madness, and the limit of the number of app that can be opened is not something that has been clearly addressed yet.

“The homescreen concept is interesting, but failed to convince me that it was a better solution than what Android proposes. The idea that an app can become to a widget when not running is novel, but you have no sense of which app will become a widget, and you have no control over whether or not that widget will always be visible. In fact, you have no control over your multitasking / homescreen arrangement save for the fact that you can kill a process. The apps order, or if they stay in place, is determined simply by which one you've most recently had open. And once you get to app nine... your old apps are dismissed unceremoniously.”

-Joshua Topolsky, The Verge

Handling of background apps is something that needs a rethink. The smartphone cannot take a random call on which app needs to be killed. Also, if apps need to become widgets, then it needs to be done uniformly across all apps. You are not expected to keep tabs on what apps are widgets and what apps may also be open in the background that haven’t become widgets.

There are issues with the way the BlackBerry Hub works. Unifying mails and updates is good, but the Hub does not have a way of segregating those updates. At the end of it all, what you have is ALL updates – FB, Twitter, BBM, SMS, mails from all accounts, LinkedIn etc., are lined up at one place. To anyone, whether a geek or technologically challenged, that is a rather huge mountain to climb, just to get to the data you need to access quickly.

Another issue pointed out by reviews is the un-smart app switching. Your phone is sitting on the desk as you work. The SMS notification beeps. You pick up the phone and wish to check it. The last opened app remains open, rather than an automatic switch to the SMS inbox. You need to hit back on the open app, return to Home and then head into the SMSes. Compare this directly with Android and iOS, and this method just feels archaic, even though it may be wrapped in a modern UI.

The good bit though is the on-screen keyboard that now attempts to replicate the physical QWERTY as much as possible. The on-screen one on the Z10 replicates the one on the Bold Touch 9900 to quite an extent, including the silver strips between key layers.

Emails – the main thing that BlackBerry was famous for, has also been given a refresh. And it is mostly good, with a couple of niggles.

“Always one of BlackBerry's strengths, RIM's thorough e-mail tradition is carried on in BlackBerry 10 OS. You can flag messages, mark messages as unread, file them by folder, and invite the contact to a meeting.

When you're composing a message, BlackBerry 10 goes the extra mile, allowing you to attach various files, format text, and change text color. Is the e-mail urgent? You can mark its importance. Want to process a lot of e-mails at once? No problem, you can file, flag, mark as read, and delete in a batch.

The OS is good at popping up contacts as you type, but the second you tap the Compose button, it suggests two contacts you might want to address. The problem with this is that there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the same two names I keep seeing; they're certainly not the two I've contacted most often.”

-Jesssica Dolcourt, CNET

While the above mentioned examples are just some of the ones from the new BlackBerry OS, the bigger question is, will people purchase BB10 devices as an upgrade from their BB 7 OS handsets? The answer from some of the current BlackBerry loyalists (the older generation, or the corporate crowd) would probably be a resounding ‘No.’ The main reasons for that are – 1) There is no resemblance with BlackBerry 7 OS, and the new gestures will take some getting used to. 2) The platform is working fine for now, still providing a large part of the new BB10 OS ecosystem.

Looking at other demographics, like the young consumer in the market for upcoming budget BlackBerry 10 devices, things might take another direction. A lot of young users have been hooked onto the platform with the BlackBerry Messenger service. They actually would not mind using the new UI, because it is cool, and helps not not to feel shame when around Android or the iOS devices. BlackBerry’s new found love for all the biggest apps will also be useful to them.

Until BlackBerry provides a compelling reason to buy into BB10, most existing BlackBerry users will stay put. And since the BB10 platform needs an update to iron out the bugs, it will for now only be adopted by the experimental kinds, wanting to try out the latest.

Vishal MathurVishal Mathur