Thoughts on the BlackBerry 10 Event

Like many folks today, I watched the BlackBerry 10 event (see the source link for the full BlackBerry 10 event video). I find these types of launch events to be fascinating. While they do not make or break a product, they can often set the tempo for the months to follow. Apple, of course, is famous for its product launch events. Amazon has done a particular good job with its launch events, and Google is no slouch (if less refined). The less that is said about Microsoft's launch events, the better (see the Surface launch for the gory details).

Where then, does the BlackBerry 10 event fall on that scale? Probably a tad below Amazon. This is due to several factors: people, devices, and software.

With regard to the people aspect, the results were mixed. BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion) CEO Thorsten Heins was not very personable. That's not to say he was unlikeable, but rather that he was very bland. If you want to create a mental image of what I'm talking about, imagine Apple CEO Tim Cook but with 50% less personality. Steve Jobs, this man is not. However, he wasn't the star of of the show here. That award goes to Vivek Bhardwaj, BlackBerry's Head of Software. This guy is a natural on the stage. His presentation of the BlackBerry 10 software features was smooth, relaxed, and intriguing. Keep a watch on his career, folks.

The devices suffered somewhat in the presentation. Heins showed both the Z10 (referred to as the "Zed 10", which I find pleasing to the ear) touchscreen-based device and the Q10 keyboard-based device. I think there was a real missed opportunity here. While both devices were described on stage with their respective feature lists, I do think that BlackBerry should have spent a bit more time convincing us of the design qualities of the devices. Apple is a master of this. The folks at Engadget have an interesting review of the Z10, by the way. It seems like the Z10 is a solid (if flawed) device.

The BlackBerry 10 software was the best part of the presentation, especially in Bhardwaj's capable hands. The BlackBerry Hub feature integrates just about every major communication method (email, text, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) in an easy-to-glance UI. The Hub feature is bolstered by BlackBerry Peek, which lets users 'peek' at the hub from any screen in any app without causing the app to pause (including video). BlackBerry Flow is probably the best multi-tasking UI I've seen on a mobile device. Perhaps the best feature for modern smartphone users is BlackBerry Balance, which lets users separate apps (and more importantly, data) into "personal" and "work" profiles with a UI that allows for seamlessly transitioning between the two.

It looks like BlackBerry has put together a competent (if uneven) story for what it provides to users. It will be very tough to dislodge Google and Apple from their entrenched positions as the market leaders, but this is a good start for BlackBerry's attempt to regain its former glory.