December 4, 2012 - 1:17pmUpdated: December 4, 2012 - 4:07pm
Blackberry 10 software preview with development model on December 4 2012. Adriana Christianson/CJME
It was a made-in-Canada success story until it all fell apart, but now Research In Motion (RIM) is taking its new BlackBerry 10 software on tour through Regina in the hopes of creating some buzz around its ailing brand.
The Ontario tech company held a preview of the new software for media on Tuesday morning. RIM has had a tough year but the tech firm is gearing up for the release of new phone models and a new operating system at the end of January by taking a demonstration version across Canada.
RIM was heralded as the next big thing in tech in the middle of the last decade. In 2006 BlackBerry smart phones were the most dominant in North American, boasting almost half the smart phone market. The devices were so ubiquitous that the slang term "Crackberry" was added to Webster's Dictionary.
But a combination of aging technology and the rise of the iPhone and Android devices started RIM on a slow descent. That slide hit its lowest point back in spring when the company announced it has lost more than $500 million in the first quarter of the year. It prepared to lay off 5,000 employees and pushed the launch of BlackBerry 10 back to 2013.
The company currently holds less than 10 per cent of the North American smart phone market, though it remains popular in other countries around the world.
RIM higher-ups have all but admitted they're pinning all their hopes on BlackBerry 10, a new line of phones with an all-new operating system that has been created from scratch. The company's PR consultant Sarah Burt insists the new products will be entirely different from what BlackBerry devotees (and those who have ditched the brand) are used to.
"We always listen to our customers but we're also trying to innovate and do new things," Burt explained to reporters after the demonstration.
The test version of the BlackBerry 10 software displayed for Regina reporters was definitely different. The devices Burt presented are not finalized versions of the upcoming hardware. They're simply development models put together so app companies would have something to run the software on. Still, the model we were shown boasts a taller, wider touch screen than the iPhone 5.
The functionality of the software is all new. You start with a home screen, which gives you access to everything through the swipe of a finger. Swipe to the left and you can access page after page of apps. Swipe down to get to a "bedside mode" that allows you to set an alarm and ensures the phone won't ring or buzz or beep while you're trying to sleep. Swipe to the right and you access your "hub," a fixed area where all of your emails, text messages, instant messages, and Twitter and Facebook updates are collated.
The home screen also allows you to run multiple apps at once, setting them up in a series of up to eight "tiles" that run concurrently. That's something that that Burt says is relatively unique in the smart phone market.
"People are flying between apps, they're flying in and out of their inbox, they're flowing right in and out of their calender," Burt says. "All the things you need to do on a daily basis are just right there at your fingertips."
Points of frustration on old BlackBerry models seem to have been addressed. Programs load almost instantly and the web browser looks and functions like every other web browser on every other device. Burt insists it actually loads faster than a desktop or laptop computer in some cases.
"The browser is something we built from the ground up to be fast, to be super-responsive. We're really proud of it and the speed of the whole OS (operating system) in general. The whole thing is built for speed and responsiveness."
Other flourishes that seek to set Blackberry 10 apart from the pack include unique features like the camera, which can operate in "time shift" mode.
It takes a series of photos and then allows you to focus in on a person's face. If someone blinks you can go back and forth through the different images that were captured, finding one that's just right. Then you can do it for other people in the photo, potentially creating, "a moment in time that never actually existed," according to Burt.
BlackBerry proved valuable for governments and corporate clients in the past because of its secure data network. Now they'll be able to set up a device with a separate partition for work use. That side can be locked when using the personal side of it, keeping your work data safe. They can also run concurrently, running seamlessly together.
Those that miss the old BlackBerry keyboard can rest easy as well. The company plans to introduce phones that are fully touch-screen and others with the classic built-in keyboard. The company insists the on-screen keyboard will also be an improvement over what's currently on the market, learning words and phrases that a user frequently uses and adding them to its internal memory.
A version of predictive text is also used in the software. If you type the first few letters of a word, different options for what word you might be looking for will show up above different letters on the keyboard. Swiping your finger up on that key will put that entire word automatically into whatever you're writing.
Blackberry also remains popular outside North America, which might be one reason why the phone is functional in multiple languages without changing settings.
RIM has acknowledged that it has an uphill battle ahead. But Burt is confident the new system will provide the staples people used to love with the updated technology that they've gotten used to seeing from other companies.
"We think people who have switched to other devices miss their BlackBerry. They miss the keyboard, they miss the flashing red light, they miss being able to really quickly get things done and communicate. And we think they'll going to want to come back and check out BlackBerry 10 for those reasons."
Edited by CJME's Karen Brownlee.
For a closer look at what the Blackberry 10 has to offer, check out this video.