All eyes were on Research In Motion, makers of BlackBerry, on May 1st when it gave the world the first peek of its next generation QNX (pronounced “q-nix”) based mobile operating platform set to power its next set of smartphones during the Blackberry world keynote presentation by new CEO Thorsten Heins. During the presentation, Heins previewed elements of the new OS, including the new intelligent keyboard, the camera that never misses a moment, notifications, the “flow” concept and the home screen.
In usual TechSuplex style, we have gone the extra-mile, milked all our sources and researched to give you the most comprehensive look into the next generation BlackBerry devices.
While no official consumer hardware was announced, a prototype device fordevelopers to develop and test their BlackBerry10 apps on was released. Aptly named Blackberry 10 dev alpha (mouthful right?), the device which runs a barebones, early version of BlackBerry10 gives us a minimum threshold of what to expect with regards to BB10 hardware. Reasoning is, surely RIM would not downgrade features of a developer prototype for the commercial release right? If any thing they will probably be upgraded.
[section label="Cameras"] Cameras:
Front: 3 MegaPixels, EDOF (fixed focused)
Back: 8Megapixels, Autofocus, Manual focus, region priority, flash and video light.
General Features: photo preview up to 1080p at 15fps (frames per second), Video preview up to 1080p at 30fps. Video capture up to 1080p at 30fps, Photo Capture @ 1fps (ZLS) or 15fps (burst), Preset scene modes (eg action, whiteboard, auto etc), face detection, auto-white-balance, exposure bracketing.
4.2 inch HD LCD touch screen.
Resolution: 1280 x 768 HD LCD (356 ppi) (To give you some perspective; Galaxy S3 = 720 x 1280 pixels (306 ppi), HTC One X: 1280 x 720 Pixels (312ppi), the sharpest phone screen out now is on the iPhone 4S 960 x 640-pixel resolution at 326 ppi) so that’s a sharp screen! If the dev alpha were out as a consumer phone, it would have the best screen available right now.
Storage: 16GB Internal on the dev alpha (going by the playbook, there could be 32 and 64Gb variants) expandable via micro SD.
Network: Quad Band HSPA+, microSIM, LTE support enabled (though an LTE chip and radios not on the dev alpha, RIM announced during it’s Q4’s earnings call that the reason BB10 was delayed till 2nd half of 2012 was because a particular LTE ready chip needed was not in production till 2nd half 2012).
Processor: On the dev alpha: OMAP4460 (dual core) clocked at 1.5GHz, but our sources tell us that the newer in-house testing blackberry 10 devices have the Qualcomm 8960 and 8660 S4 Snapdragon using krait architecture, which outperform the current quad-core Cortex A9 and tegra 3 (found on the new high-end android devices) by as much 200% (roughly). This also tallies with the earlier statement (see network) about an LTE capable chip.
Connectivity: Bluetooth, NFC, wi-fi.
Ports: 3.5MM Headphone Jack, microHDMI, microUSB.
RIM also promised versions of BB10 hardware with a hardware keyboard will be launched also following the launch of the all touch devices. Word is there are two hardware models in development a candy bar, 9900-type device with a much larger screen and a very thin torch-type slider.
[section label="Software"] Software:
Blackberry 1o is based on QNX, a commercial Unix-like real-time operating system, aimed primarily at the embedded systems market. The product was originally developed by Canadian company QNX Software Systems, which was later acquired by Research In Motion on the 9th of April, 2012. QNX is based on the idea of running most of the OS in the form of a number of small tasks, known as servers. This differs from the more traditional monolithic kernel, in which the operating system is a single very large program composed of a huge number of “parts” with special abilities. In the case of QNX, the use of a microkernel allows users (developers) to turn off any functionality they do not require without having to change the OS itself; instead, those servers are simply not run. The implication of this amongst other things are:
- Multiple applications can run fully simultaneously without being paused and with no compromise. Full real-time multitasking.
- A crashed app, when that happens, does not affect the performance of the system or other apps since they all run in isolation.
- Applications and the OS can be updated incrementally in the background and selectively, so updates can be made to the device without updating the radio-stack (which is the major reason for delayed updates as networks have to approve radio stacks).
The software design concept of Blackberry 10 is said to be “flow” a term used in this case to mean ability to have deep integration between applications such that you actually never have to open on application and start another, but instead “flow’ from one application to the other. It is gesture based and highly optimized for both one-handed and two-handed use. For the first time a blackberry OS is built with touch in mind.
Blackberry 1o (as at right now) comprises of three screens (this could change before launch)… The traditional icon-centric app tray consisting of icons arranged in a four column grid on the left, a multi-tasking screen which shows the last four used applications running real-time but minimized (separate concept from widgets, which are basically app-launching icons which display app info and not the actual applications) in the middle and a unified inbox with all your notifications (email, BBM, SMS, PIN, Facebook, twitter, application notifications, everything basically). In between each screen, there’s also a notification area (more on this later).
A lot of focus is on one-handed navigation and “clean screens free of menu clutter. As a result since there will be fewer buttons, a lot of actions and navigation generally will be based on gestures or “swipes”.
From the multitasking screen (which is apparently the default screen) a swipe from left to right takes you to the application tray, while a swipe the other way takes you to the unified inbox. The unified inbox will always be the next page to the right of whatever screen you are viewing. There’s a mini-bar at the top that is home to the indicators for battery, bluetooth, wi-fi, NFC, etc. The bottom also sports a bar containing touch icons for the phone app on the left, a search icon in the middle and a camera icon right. The context of this bar changes depending on what app you are in and may be customizable at launch.
Notifications and the Glance feature:
The notification pane is a sort of mini screen in between your current screen and the unified inbox. Accessing it is by holding down the bottom right hand corner of the screen, this shrinks the view, bringing up a margin at the right hand side where notifications are displayed. Swiping or dragging your thumb further to left brings even more content on to the screen till you hit your inbox. This feature is refered to as “glancing”. Assuming you open a mail and then maybe an attachment, you can swipe back a bit to the right to from the attachment to “glance” back at the email; swiping further will “glance” back at the unified inbox. At this point u essentially have three “windows” being displayed on the screen. This glance feature is implemented system-wide and can be built into third-party applications too.
The Call screen:
It’s a phone right? so obviously there’s some interest in how the calling user interface looks. When a call comes in, the caller’s name/number slides down on a bar from the top to the middle of the screen, a red end-call button is displayed at the top of the screen and a green accept icon is displayed at the bottom. Sliding the bar either ways initiates the corresponding action. eg sliding the icon back up rejects the call.
When a call’s answered, a new screen is displayed, the top 40% or so shows the caller picture with the contact details (where available) and the rest of the screen pulls up a menu (with options for mute, speaker, keypad, notes, add call and video chat) a call timer and an end call “button”.
RIM prides its self as the undisputed champions of the mobile hardware keyboard and the blackberry 10 keyboard attempts to replicate that on the touch screen. The look is similar to a 9900 keyboard layout, similarly spaced too; but what makes it tick isn’t the aesthetics though, it’s the A.I (artificial intelligence) behind it. The keyboard “learns” how you type over time and keeps adjusting to suit you. It scans through your tweets, Facebook, emails, sms etc to learn what you say and how you say things on setting up, then offers you suggestions to the next possible words based on how you talk on the next possible key you are striking when typing. You may then swipe the word upwards towards the text area or continue typing your word if it guesses wrong. Swiping down anywhere on the keyboard displays the number view, swiping down again brings up the symbol view, a swipe from right to left delete’s and a held swipe deletes faster. This makes one hand typing on a touchscreen relatively easy compared to what is obtainable right now. It also learns the exact spot you are used to striking a key and auto adjusts that spot as the centre of the key, for example, if you always strike the bottom corner of “S” while typing, it auto centres that as the middle of the “S” key so that you are less likely to hit the “Z” key beneath it. The keyboard’s learned settings can also be transferred from device to device so all your devices have uniform settings.
[section label="Cameras"] Camera:
The camera activates “burst mode” by default as soon as it’s turned on which in essence means it starts capturing images behind the scenes. Pictures are snapped by touching any part of the screen. The magic here happens after a picture is taken. You can select parts of the picture and rewind or forward as it pleases you to capture that perfect moment before saving it. For example, if you missed a smile, you can rewind or forward the person’s face back to the missed smile. Pretty neat huh?
Blackberry 10 devices will be able to share their screens between devices. You will be able to share your screen on another device or use the second device as a secondary screen.
You will also be able to share your BB 10 screen with a larger screen via hdmi (as available on the playbook already)or wirelessly via DLNA.
Blackberry 10 devices just like the playbook will have an android “player” built-in to the OS, Repackaged android apps will be able to run on the Os just like a native app, in a lot of cases you do not even notice the difference. Now, while the apps will still need to be repackaged and submitted to app world, the more experimental can repackage the apps and get them signed and side-loaded.
BlackBerry Messenger (BBM):
BBM as we know it gets a major redesign both in terms of looks, functionality and underlying technology.
The Lock Screen:
The lock screen on BB10’s been redesigned to show more details of your notifications other than the clock and alarm on the old OS. All the categories of your notifications now show on the right hand side, with the corresponding number of messages. The screen unlock mechanism is also changed; now you have two options, either press the unlock key on top and drag the unlock “bar” a third way up the screen or you can swipe from the bezel below the screen upwards to about a third of the screen.
A new feature code-named cinnamon toast which has The Astonishing Tribe (search now called RIM Sweden…click to see videos of some of their old stuff) written all over it is also said to be included in the lockscreen in BB10. The concept is when you get a message, you can tilt the screen towards you to see some details of the message the more you tilt, the more details you see…without unlocking your screen.
This comes built-in on Blackberry 10 just like it is on the playbook right now. The video chat app lets you place audio and video calls to other blackberry 10 phones and the playbook (which will get a blackberry 10 update too by the way). The contacts app which scans your Gmail, Facebook and Twitter to aggregate your contacts automatically adds contacts with a BBID email or \PIN to your video call contacts. You can also manually add contacts or place calls to those outside your contact if you have the BBID or PIN.
That’s about all the info on the new platform that we have been able to gather, on paper it’s shaping up to be a serious contender and I for one cannot wait to have one of those in my hands. So what do you think? Sound off in the comments. I’ll leave you with some more pictures of what apps will look like and some videoes to drool over.
BB10 sneak peak:
BB10 Camera Demo:
BB 10 Keyboard Demo: