There, I said it, I like BlackBerry! My smartphone of choice is a BlackBerry Z10 and it has been so for over 1,5 year, not an iPhone, not Android, not even a Windows Phone!
Why did I decide to buy a Z10, you ask? To be honest it wasn’t really a conscious choice, I tumbled into the BlackBerry 10 ecosystem after BlackBerry sent me a free Dev Alpha device to build and test apps for the upcoming BlackBerry 10 OS, then I traded it for a Limited Editon Z10 which I still use today. But that’s not important, it once was just another freebie, but now I don’t know if I could ever live with another smartphone OS.
BlackBerry 10 has nearly all the features (actual features, not gimmicks) competing OSes offer and it’s only getting better with regular updates, but most importantly it has several important features others don’t have that I could never live without.
The App gap & Android runtime
The big thing differentiating different devices, for most people at least, is their app ecosystem, iPhone and Android users have all the apps they could ever want, Windows Phone has, well, fewer apps. Blackberry 10 has even fewer… unless you count the millions of Android apps ever made!
While BlackBerry managed to get some big apps in their BlackBerry World store (EverNote, SoundHound, Angry Birds, Real Racing, Asphalt…) and some pretty good 3rd party alternatives to Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram etc. that doesn’t come close to what Windows Phone has, let alone Android or IOS. But BlackBerry has one very clever trick up its sleeve, the BB10 Android Runtime!
The Android runtime started as an easy way for Android developers to bring their apps to BlackBerry, they just needed to repackage their APK into a BAR (BlackBerry’s app container) and submit it to the store, the device emulates a full Android install to run these repackaged apps. Soon end-users started to repackage APKs for their own use and sideloaded them to their device (yes, it was really that easy). With a little bit of work BlackBerry 10 users now had access to a big part of the Android ecosystem too!
The 10.2 OS update included a bunch of improvements to the runtime so nearly every Android app ever could be run on a Blackberry 10 device (albeit with some quirks here and there). But there was more, gone were the days of repackaging APKs, end-users could now install APKs directly from their device! One could even install the Amazon app store APK and download apps through the Amazon store and while it isn’t possible to run Google Play directly, many alternative, BB10 native apps exist, like Snap, that allow users to browse and install apps from Google play.
Having access to the 2 major Android stores right from you device was obviously a major step in the right direction, and with the upcoming 10.3 OS release blackberry is taking that experience to the next level by including the Amazon store out of the box. There really is no app gap when it comes to BlackBerry 10!
The signature BlackBerry keyboard
When people think BlackBerry, they think keyboards, for many years the outstanding physical keyboards on BlackBerry devices made them the device of choice for business users. BlackBerry still sells devices with a physical keyboard – their Q-series – but they also managed to offer that same great typing experience on their full-touch devices.
The iconic frets between the horizontal rows of keys do work, even on a touchscreen, that little bit of extra space between keys really helps diminish typos.
The autocomplete and next word suggestions are some of the best I’ve seen, they are far more accurate than the stock Android keyboard or Windows Phone keyboard. Predictions are shown in-letter, you simply swipe up to complete the word you’re typing, far more efficient than a suggestions bar above the keyboard if you ask me. It’s a simple concept, instead of dividing your attention between the keys and the suggestions, you just focus on the next letter you’re going to type, if the word you need is suggested, instead of pressing the key you simply swipe up, a fluid typing experience. On top of that, because suggestions are spread over the keyboard, you get a lot more suggestions at once instead of the limited number in the suggestions bar.
Then there’s the way BlackBerry 10’s keyboard learns how you type, unlike stock Android you don’t have to manually save every new word, it automatically learns new words and the context you use them in as you type and will suggest them later on. It learns your personal writing style and your specific sentences. If there’s a special sentence you use a lot, BlackBerry 10 will know when you’re about to type that sentence and after you type in the first 2 or so words you just go *swipe* *swipe* *swipe*, and there’s your sentence, no actual typing involved!
Some other nice features include voice dictation built right into the keyboard and the ability to swipe left anywhere on the keyboard to delete the last word you typed.
The BlackBerry 10 keyboard is clearly better than the IOS7 or stock Android one. There might be a better custom Android keyboard out there somewhere and IOS8 includes a new keyboard with autocomplete suggestion (seriously, every other OS has had this for years now, c’mon Apple) and support for custom keyboards, but for now I’m very satisfied with my BlackBerry keyboard.
Oh and Swype keyboards? I never mastered those :P
Next up is the user interface, when you take a quick look at a Blackberry 10 phone you’ll notice it has very few buttons (unless you’re using a Qwerty device ;) ). There’s no home or back button on any of the new phones and no on-screen keys either, most of the time you navigate the Blackberry 10 OS using gestures. This is a pretty steep learning curve, yes, but once you get the hang of it it is very intuitive, fast, fluid and productive, you’ll be swiping your way through the day. A gesture based interface allows for a slew of new features that just aren’t possible when you’re restricted to 3, 2 or even 1 button(s). A great example are the different peek gestures that allow you to take a quick peek inside the BlackBerry hub, but more about that later.
BlackBerry’s devices have always been productivity masterpieces and BlackBerry 10 is no exception! At the heart of this productivity is the BlackBerry Hub, a central hub with all your emails, texts, IMs, tweets etc. It’s nothing like other platforms where you get a notification saying “You have X new emails” which then takes you to a dedicated email app, in stead the Hub will aggregate every single item in one place so you don’t have to divide your attention between different apps. The Hub itself isn’t even an app, it’s an integral part of BlackBerry 10, it’s best described as an extra panel to the left of your homescreen.
If you want to unclutter things you can always filter based on different types of notifications, like emails, tweets, …
You’ll notice there’s a special category called “Priority Hub“, this is an automatically aggregated list of notifications that are important to you, this can be emails you’ve flagged, but also replies to conversations you started, notifications from “priority contacts” or messages containing specific keywords.
The beauty of the Hub lies in the fact that no matter what you’re doing on your phone it’s only one swipe away.
You don’t need to open the Hub to find out what notifications out have, you can simply swipe up and hold at any time to see the notification charms or swipe up, to the left and hold to take a quick peek inside the Hub.
There are tons of clever tricks that help you get work done faster using the Hub, I won’t list all of them here, but the pinch filter is a great example. Notifications don’t automatically disappear when they’re read, but you can pinch to filter on unread notifications.
The future of the BlackBerry 10 OS
Blackberry 10 already is a great smartphone OS and the future looks bright, with OS10.3 bringing a lot of improvements and new features.
The biggest feature is a personal assistant, IOS has Siri, Android has Google Now and Windows Phone has Cortana and now BlackBerry 10 will get “BlackBerry Assistant” (catchy name, I know). Judging by the Inside BlackBerry blogpost, BlackBerry assistant will have much of the same features as the other assistants, let’s hope it performs just as well too…
The other big change is a complete UI redesign. BlackBerry 10.3 will have a flatter look, much like Microsoft’s
Metro Modern UI, Google’s “Material Design” and Apple’s IOS 7 redesign. The update includes flatter icons for the built-in apps and a new, more minimalist design for the app bar with a “signature action”.
Other changes include bundling the Amazon appstore by default, an updated camera UI, an extra row of apps on the homescreen and a new gesture to reach the quick settings panel from anywhere in the OS. For a full list of changes in 10.3, head over to the Inside BlackBerry blog.