Research in Motion, the Waterloo, Ontario-based maker the BlackBerry line of mobile devices, unveiled its long-delayed, revamped smartphone operating system called BB10 today. It also announced two new BlackBerry smartphones that run this OS: the Z10 (which has a 4.2-inch touchscreen) and the Q10 (with a physical keyboard).
For those who are keeping notes, Research in Motion also officially changed its company's name to BlackBerry.
The BB10 OS offers some intriguing features -- for users of the touchscreen model, at least. But some big questions remain for people who are deciding whether to buy BB10 devices.
A few of the interesting new features for business owners are:
This is an inbox on steroids, integrating inbound messages, to-do list items, social media, events and more in one interface. It can be accessed with one swipe from any app. Individual items in the Hub can be acted upon (forwarded, deleted, etc.) again with one or two swipes. When in the Hub, you can do things like create an event that gets added to your calendar, or send a tweet, without directly opening your calendar or Twitter app.
Touchscreen-friendly typing and user interface.
BlackBerry is trying to improve on common usability complaints about using touchscreens through BB10 features such as using a flicking gesture to toss words from the keyboard to the text entry field. CEO Thorsten Heins called this "writing without typing" -- which is a great idea, as long as the results are fairly accurate.
Almost all BB10 functionality -- such as switching between apps and taking a note -- is swipe-based, making one-handed, even one-thumbed, operation easy.
Screen sharing from BlackBerry messenger.
The revamped BlackBerry Messenger service allows video calling. But probably more important for business users is screen sharing from one phone to another. This would allow you, for instance, to show a colleague a document you're discussing on a call. But Messenger only works between BlackBerry users. Skype, which offers mobile video calling, has committed to being on BB10.
Security and profiles.
A part of BB10 called "Balance" makes it easy to create, customize, and switch between "work" and "personal" user profiles, each with different apps and security settings. For enterprise users, the employer can control the "work" profile but not the personal profile.
And, yet, some major questions remain:
What are the costs and availability?
Neither phone is available yet in the U.S. or Canada, although it will be available this week from a few European carriers. Canadian availability is expected by February 5. U.S. availability is expected sometime in March and major U.S. carriers are expected to announce pricing and availability dates soon.
Pricing for the Z10 was said to be $149 on contract. Monthly plans will be available from some carriers.
How well will BB10 work on the Q10?
Many BlackBerry users love having a physical keyboard. In the launch event, BlackBerry executives demoed many BB10 features -- but only on the Z10 touchscreen model. Obviously, swipe-based features would not work on a non-touchscreen phone.
What about maps and navigation?
These are key features for business users, but they weren't mentioned or demoed in the launch event. Given Apple's recent blunders with maps on iOS, this would be something users would want to try out before buying.
Let us know why or why not in the comments below.