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01/30/2013

With new software and gear, Blackberry plays catch-up, and no more

Today's the day: RIM unveiled the first phones running its new Blackberry operating system, BB10. It also rebranded itself as Blackberry. Will it be enough to save the company, though?

The new software that the phone maker unveiled includes several features, although many of them appear to be catch-ups to features that have been on other phones for a while. It now has a proper touch and swipe interface designed from the ground up, rather than the bolt-on that it used to try and update its older operating system, bringing it into the 2010s, finally.

Blackberry Messenger now features video chat, a feature that Apple has had since 2010. It has introduced voice control (Apple has had Siri for over a year and the Android store is littered with clones). 

The new software also features Timeshift, a function that takes multiple photographs and uses the best faces from each photo in the final result. The Galaxy Note 2 already has something similar to this, called Best Face mode (although the Blackberry version does look very well-implemented).

Other features include Active Frames, which are small squares providing useful information for minimised BB10 apps. Windows Phone 8 has this. Android has widgets.   

BB10 does feature the chance to share the screen of your phone with someone else, though, which is innovative (although what will people use this for?) 

What about the hardware? The specifications for the Z10 are respectable, but not world-beating by any means. It has a 4.2in screen, with a 1280 x 768 display. This is a respectably-sized device, but it's still lagging modern smartphones, which are tending towards larger screens, in the upper four-inches range. The Galaxy Note 2 has a whopping 5.5in monster. And resolutions are getting better. Sony's Xperia ZL will feature a 5-in screen with a lovely 1920 x 1080 resolution. 

The Z10 also has an 1.5Ghz Snapdragon processor, 2Gb of memory (expandable), and 8mp back camera and a 2mp front camera. Again, Blackberry isn't boiling the ocean here.

The Q10 with the new OS has a 3.1in screen - tiny by today's standards, but presumably of appeal to the party faithful, who have been using tiny Blackberry devices for years and want to continue the trend.  

Blackberry has a lot of catching up to do, and this is likely its last chance to regain the market share and mindshare that it has lost in the last couple of years. It needed to bat its new OS launch out of the park, introducing never-before-seen features in hardware and software that would stun the community. This is how Apple succeeded with the iPhone when it first launched.

I think that reigning back on these stunning new features with the underwhelming iPhone 5 is also partly why Apple is now starting to lose its way, and while Samsung is starting to take centre stage in the phone world with bigger screens that impress customers. I don't think Blackberry is going to succeed with this revamp.  

On another note, I had occasion to mail someone with a Blackberry address today. It's the first time I've ever needed to. The message came back:

Your message:

To: XXX@rogers.blackberry.net

Subject: XXX

Sent Date: Wed Jan 30 08:55:18 2013

has not been delivered to the recipient's BlackBerry Handheld.

Why? Will it be delivered later? Was it just before her phone was off? Was it because the mail address was wrong and the user is unknown? I have no idea. It's a communications failure because I'm left in the dark, unsure about what will happen next, and now I"ll have to call her to find out.

In some ways, Blackberry is still very much living in the 1990s. 

Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets

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Danny BradburyDanny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with 20 years' experience. He writes regularly for publications including the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Financial Post, and Backbone magazine. Danny also writes and directs documentaries.

Maurice CachoMaurice Cacho

Maurice Cacho is a Toronto-based journalist mixing his love for tech with a passion for news. He's also CP24's Web Journalist and appears daily on CP24 Breakfast and weekly on the channel's tech show, Webnation, discussing tech news and trends.

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