Blackberry 10 - A new interface and a new direction

My first impression of Blackberry 10 is not as spectacular as the spectacle that Blackberry made with its launch. See, to celebrate the 10th version of its mobile operating system Blackberry did a number of things, from changing its company name to unveiling a couple of shiny new flagship phones. It also appointed Alicia Keys as its Global Creative Director. My reaction to this last point echoed my reaction to using the Blackberry Z10 (one of the new phones) for the first time. I wasn't disappointed, just a little bewildered.

The beauty of iOS and---to a slightly lesser extend---Android is that they're pretty intuitive. Pick them up and away you swipe. Pick up a Blackberry Z10 and away you'll swipe, but only after you've learned a handful of hidden touch gestures. Swiping up, down, left and right will take you on a guided tour of your phone but it's not immediately clear where you're going or where you've come from. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen handily takes you to your home screen, but it unnaturally slides in from the right and not from the bottom to follow your finger or thumb. I won't detail the intricacies of the operating system as I don't know them and you can just read about them in detail here, but it did feel a little disjointed after a cursory play. It's unfair to criticise Blackberry 10 after such a short time with it, which is why I won't, but the first impression of a new touch interface is critical and I'm feeling a little apathetic towards it.

It certainly looks pretty, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Android and after digging through the extensive and well-produced design guidelines I found both the language and interaction principles ape that competitor a fair bit. This may be quite intentional however, as I was surprised to learn Blackberry 10 can run certain Android apps through emulation (with varying degrees of success), so Blackberry may be hoping to piggyback off the popularity of Google's mobile ecosystem by recommending its apps follow similar user interface guidelines, to help lure users over to them.

And from a user interface perspective there are many nice flourishes and interactions, including some novel ways of displaying app content out of its 'app container' ('Active Frames' can snapshot an entire app that's running or pinpoint relevant information from it like Windows Phone Live Tiles), so creating an original app for the platform would certainly be a fun challenge. But whether Blackberry will find an audience for their new direction to drum up demand for great apps remains to be seen, so for now we'll wait and watch.

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