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BlackBerry Ten Launch Event (Toronto)

BlackBerry Ten Launch Event (Toronto)

| On 30, Jan 2013

Blackberry Ten Launch

Spent most of the day at the Blackberry Launch event at the Carlu in Toronto. Arrived before 9h00 to register, the presentations started about 10h00. And in the interests of full disclosure, I did eat their snacks, used their free Wi-Fi and received a Blackberry Z10 phone. Like my friend Frank said, “I’m a big fan of desperate companies.” 

I’ll let you judge if that colours my remarks – but it gives me the opportunity over the next few weeks to play with the device and provide some in-depth reviews both in writing and on video (youtube.com/maartech).

As part of the registration process for the event, they’d sent me an email with my registration number and a bar code. When I got to the registration desk, that didn’t count – I just needed to enter my email address into a playbook tablet[1].

Big turnout. Saw just about everyone I’ve met covering tech over the last twenty years, lots of fun chatting and schmoozing before the presentation. We join the rest of the press-release chasing, tech-fawning media into the auditorium. Tables with AC and Ethernet were provided for media. We are ready for the revelation.

The presentation begins with a 15 minute pre-show. Some presenter who wasn’t introduced – or maybe he was, his mic wasn’t always on – warmed up the crowds in the various locations, interviewed Alex, the Blackberry development evangelist, introduced a short video showing some Blackberry fanatics and then cut the hair off some guy who’d promised not to cut his hair until the BB10 shipped. It’s times like that you appreciate Joan Rivers – she knows how to do a pre-show.

Then an on-stage welcome from two of Blackberry’s Canadian execs, who throw to the real presentation in New York.

In New York, Thorsten Heins takes the stage. He’s wearing a suit, but no tie. I get what he’s going for, but. The video quality on the large projection screen is really very good. Heins says it’s been the most rewarding year of his life. Obviously he’s not thinking about his stock options. He starts with thanks to the development teams, and others including Jim and Mike. This is clearly not the usual product presentation flow.

With minimal slide-ware he introduces the concepts that are behind this new release – multi-tasking, connectivity, mobile computing, apps – as if they’re being presented for the first time.

In addition to the re-naming, the catchwords are redesigned, re-engineered and re-invented. He glances over features like faster browsing and social media integration. He introduces the Blackberry Q10 with a physical keyboard and the Z10.

He and Vivek Bhardwaj jump right into demos, which come fast and furious, along with a few asides getting laughs about Vivek’s upcoming vacation. I wish they’d discussed some of the features before the demo, just so we’d know what we’re about to see. The new keywords: Blackberry Flow, Blackberry Hub, Flick are all quickly introduced as we speed through the features. They all look good – Hub’s integration of facebook, twitter and Linked In into a single environment, Flicking the predictive words that appear on the keyboard, multi-language support, the simple gestural interface. The Remember feature, with folders for specific projects, is integrated with Evernote.

There is a way to completely segregate business and personal, hopefully making corporate IT departments happy.

The camera software demo doesn’t go well – even with the Time Shift feature, there’s not a good image of Thorsten to be had. The photo editing software looks very slick, with fluid gestural manipulation. Video editing software also looks good. A new facetime-like video calling capability has been added to BBM, and it also includes screen share, to show your correspondent what’s on your screen – I can see that would be useful. I had to wonder if the demo was staged, as the screen in New York seemed to be ahead of the shared screen in London. Maybe the satellite video link has higher latency than the Internet/BBM connection?

Lots of apps. Seventy thousand in the Blackberry app store, although they did mention that there were over one thousand top apps – leaving 69,000 as less than worthy? Skype and Kindle were highlighted – but obviously a highlighting just makes you wonder what’s missing.

The comments above are based on the presentation – obviously, I can’t wait to really try them out. And to figure out why they didn’t demo maps, or anything like airplay. I’ve found a reviewer’s guide on the Blackberry web site, and there are obviously many more features and capabilities they didn’t mention. There’s a microHDMI video out, making it easy to record video from the device for my upcoming reviews.

The Z10 will be available on February 5th in Canada for $149 on a three-year contract.

Alicia Keys was introduced as Blackberry’s new Global Creative Director. She looked very smart and professional in a black suit with white shirt. She described her role as leading the development of content and apps for the platform – bridging the gap from a work phone to a play phone. A “keep moving” project was announced with a video, but the promoted url (blackberry.com/keepmoving) just leads back to the main BB10 promo site.

Keys seemed genuinely enthusiastic about BB10 and described her experience with Blackberry as if she was renewing a relationship with an old boyfriend. Then she promoted her tour, so I wonder how often she will be running into Thorsten in the office as she hinted. I’m hoping for the best here – she could certainly make some interesting things happen.

After the presentation was over and we grabbed another snack, we lined up to get our Z10 phones. Success, along with a Bell SIM card.

In the Carlu’s fountain room, many development partners set up booths to demo their new Blackberry apps, including The Star, Globe and Mail, Rogers, Bell, The Weather Network and Air Canada. Some had used Cascades, some WebWorks to develop. They are all using the same content and basic design/layout of their mobile apps on other platforms. They integrated some of the new navigation features of BB10, which they felt were better than other platforms. In general, and maybe partly because the apps were known quantities, they felt that their development timelines were shorter than other platforms. I asked several why they would create a native app instead of using HTML5, which would be cross-platform. They consistently said that native apps are faster and offer more capabilities and that was preferred, even if it meant more apps to develop and support.

I asked about integrating with Blackberry Hub, but they indicated that opportunity had not been offered. In fact, they weren’t sure whether they’d be able to “push” content to appear in the hub or whether apps just indicated which content were hub-worthy and would then be prioritized into the hub’s display of content.

Obviously, I’m looking forward to the next few weeks and the opportunity to spend some more time taking an in-depth look at the Blackberry hardware and operating system as well as resident and third party apps.

Stay tuned.


[1]Why is there always a disconnect between what’s provided to you in advance and what’s asked when you get to the sign-in desk. It’s not just Blackberry (they changed their name from RIM this morning), it’s hotel check-ins, in-store pickups of stuff you bought on the web … but I digress.

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