BlackBerry took its sweet time bringing its new OS and a brand-spanking new flagship smartphone to public, eroding its market share to a point where it’s scraping for the leftover scraps from iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and heck, even the Asha line. Now, after more than a year after it was tentatively announced, the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10 are finally here. They both have fairly respectable 2013-worthy specs, coupled with exciting new features from a BlackBerry OS that has been reworked from the ground up. In fact, there’s not a single line of code from its predecessor. But is all this enough to make BlackBerry relevant again? After all, while the announcement of Alicia Keys as BlackBerry’s Global Creative Director was a feel-good moment for the struggling Canadian phone maker, it’s actually the quality of the phones, software and app selection that will make and break this whole thing
Z10 and Q10 Key Specs
For the most part, the BlackBerry Z10 looks like it belongs in today’s lineup of flagship phones. It’s a full touchscreen phone with a 4.2 inch HD screen that will fit perfectly into the average palms. It might not be as big as a Galaxy S3 or HTC One X+, but that also means most Asian users will find it easy to hold and navigate using just one hand.
On the other hand, the BlackBerry Q10 is a QWERTY phone that also happens to sport a touchscreen. This is the phone that will appease hardcore BlackBerry users who will probably never abandon keyboard input altogether. What’s nice about the Q10 is that it sports a gorgeous 3.1 inch AMOLED screen coupled with BlackBerry’s now patented keyboard design. I’m a big fan of AMOLED screens because of their ability to display true black and punchy colors.
Both the Z10 and Q10 have identical hardware specs: 1.5GHz dual core CPUs, 2Gb of RAM, 16Gb of internal storage, 8mp primary camera, 2mp front camera, and a complete suite of wireless connectivity options. However, the BlackBerry Z10 will be sporting a Qualcomm MSM8960 Snapdragon Krait CPU while the BlackBerry Q10 will be powered by a TI OMAP 4470 CPU. Differences in performance shouldn’t be that big in real life usage though, so no need to mull over that.
The OS: BlackBerry 10
For years, the BlackBerry OS had been stuck in time. Wanted to know what a smartphone OS looked like in 2006? Just look for the last Bold or Curve that they churned out. Well, BlackBerry has done away with its dated OS and rewritten the whole thing from scratch. There isn’t a single line of code from its predecessor, which is obviously a good thing.
BlackBerry 10 offers a number of nifty software features, such as full gesture-based navigation, an intuitive new software keyboard, centralized and easily accessible messaging options, voice recognition, new camera software, BBM and maps. The gesture navigation can take a while to get used to, but if you’ve been using touchscreen phones for a while now, the learning curve shouldn’t be that long. The software keyboard is quite possibly the best you will ever find on a mobile device. Sure, the Q10’s hardware keyboard is better, but the intuitiveness of the BlackBerry 10‘s software keyboard at suggesting corrections and inserting them is miles above anything else already out there. Finally, the best feature is probably the BlackBerry Hub, which centralizes all your messaging accounts and makes them accessible from anywhere in the phone with just a simple gesture. In theory, it should be good, but I’m curious if the sheer amount of information will display nicely on the smallish screen of the Q10.
The BlackBerry 10 App Ecosystem
As Windows Phone users like to argue, it’s not the quantity of apps, but the fact that everything you need is already there. At launch, BlackBerry 10 users will have access to 70,000 apps – the largest that any app ecosystem has ever launched with. This has been made possible through BlackBerry’s stellar efforts with devs, the most notable of which was the series of portathons that encouraged devs to port their iOS or Android apps to BlackBerry 10 while offering prizes and giveaways.
But competing with Apple’s App Store and Google Play won’t be easy as their available apps number in the hundreds of thousands, not tens of thousands. And while many of the good apps will already be available, some of them won’t, and unfortunately, there often won’t be a substitute app either. Another thing is that some of the apps like the BlackBerry 10 Facebook app were developed by BlackBerry themselves rather than their respective devs. This isn’t necessarily bad, but this can lead to some features being overlooked. For example on the BlackBerry-developed Facebook app, a reviewer wasn’t able to delete a post after accidentally publishing it too early.
Is there Still Hope for BlackBerry?
It’s undeniable that BlackBerry has been on a decline for the last couple of years. It might not have been as bad in markets such as ours and the rest of Asia, but it had gotten so bad in established markets like the U.S. that BlackBerry owners were becoming the subject of ridicule. And even some markets where BlackBerry still had a firm grasp of until now were starting to lose their market share to budget Android and Asha phones. That means BlackBerry 10 and the Z10 and Q10 phones are more than just new releases; they’re the companies last hope for a continued existence. There is no second chance after this.
The most that BlackBerry can hope for at this point is third place ahead of Windows Phone. Sales of Lumia phones and other WP handsets have been disappointing, to say the least, and it doesn’t look like Microsoft and it’s hardware partners have anything exciting left to offer. Also, Windows Phone has already reached a certain point of maturity in the mindsets of the public, so any excitement over a new platform is long gone, and if there’s going to be any growth for it, it’s going to be slow. Until BlackBerry is able to grow its ecosystem to compete with that of Apple and Google’s, it isn’t likely that they will magically catch up to grab 1st or 2nd place. But unlike Windows Phone, BlackBerry already has a cult of loyalist followers, and even if it has trouble trying to break back into the U.S. and other established markets, it shouldn’t have as much of a problem here in Asia where there is still a ton of BlackBerry users.
Admittedly, I’ve never been a BlackBerry user. I only briefly owned a BlackBerry when I won one at an event I attended for NoypiGeeks, but immediately sold it on Sulit.ph shortly after. However while there is little to no chance that I will switch from Android to the Z10 or Q10, I have to admit, the BlackBerry 10 software alone already has a lot of allure. We’ll know in the next 6 months whether they will be successful or not.