Monday, February 25, 2013

Product Review: Blackberry® 10

Recently, I got my hands on the new Blackberry® 10 and I was very much impressed with it. If I were to summarize the new Blackberry® 10, I would say that it is a bold new approach to the mobile lifestyle.

Blackberry z10 was launched in India on February 25th for $800 or Rs. 43,490/-  plus taxes, so the final price will be around Rs 50,000/-, which make Z10 a very expensive for BYOD usage.

Today mobile phones have gone far beyond being a communication device. Today, Smartphone is now a lifestyle necessity - just like electricity and Internet. And in that context, Blackberry® had taken the right step with Blackberry® 10.

Unlike Apple, Android, and Microsoft, RIM has built Blackberry® 10 for a secure mobile cloud computing experience. The Blackberry® Enterprise Server 10 (BES10) is well integrated with BB10 for better management and security. The best part of BES 10 is that it can handled both Andriod & iOS devices as well. BES10 is the key differentiator and source of significant competitive advantage of Blackberry®.

To begin with Blackberry® has extensively borrowed good ideas from competition and has even improved on it. The touch interface is good and responsive, the display is also on par with other smart phones. But what impressed me the most about Blackberry® is that the entire phone seems to be redesigned with the user in mind. Unlike Windows 8 - which was built from the technology perspective, the Blackberry® 10 - system is built with the enterprise customer in mind - a classic example of customer centric product design.

BB10 is not just a phone OS. From the first looks it is clear that Blackberry® has designed BB10 to work with a wide range of mobile devices - tablets, & other handheld devices that will follow. Blackberry® 10 could easily replace the QNX OS as a powerful mobile computing solution for cars and other transportation platforms. We will see several interesting use cases for BB10 in the years to come.  Blackberry® has also floated the idea of licensing BB10 to third parties - this implies that BB10 can be used with other nonstandard mobile devices - such as order taking hand held devices, GPS, Handheld programmers, debug tools etc..

There are five areas where BB10 has got it right.

1. BES10 Integration & Device Management

BB10 is designed with integration to BES10 and device management. Blackberry® designers have listened to their core customers i.e., enterprises and has really designed a better device management platform. To provide both security & flexibility while giving control to enterprise users. Enterprise customers can have centralized and unified management of all mobile devices under one single platform. The ability of BES10 to support policy based management for mobile devices simplifies management and allows a very high salability in the numbers of devices managed.

Blackberry® leverages its trusted & secure infrastructure with BES10 to create a safe & secure communication network for mobile devices.  Enterprise customer can choose their levels of control on the devices - based on their specific needs and craft policy based device management systems with BES10.

2. Blackberry® Balance

Blackberry® Balance is another path breaking feature. Today people use smart phones for both corporate and personal purposes, creating a division within the device for personal and official purpose, an idea borrowed from Nokia and improved upon it.

My old Nokia E71 had two profiles a "Work" profile and "Personal" profile - but both profiles shared the same Apps and data. Also Nokia Symbian OS did not have a Mobile device management system to secure enterprise data.

Blackberry® Balance is a well thought out feature. BB10 completely separates the work and personal apps and data so that you can't accidentally cut and paste from a work email to your personal account or mix up your business and personal apps.  When a business app is active, personal apps are grayed out and vice-versa. Blackberry® has even created two separate App World stores!

The real value of  Blackberry® Balance is when employees bring their own device (BOYD) to work, when an employee leaves, the IT department can wipe the enterprise section of the phone, leaving the personal section intact, and critical business data safe with the company.

Right now, no other phone system offers this level of separation, security and flexibility. Blackberry®10 is designed with BYOD culture in mind.  This is a significant jump from other Smartphone platforms. Apple and Android will have to catch up quickly - or lose market share.

3. Blackberry® Screen Share

Screen Share is another good idea copied from the PC domain, namely WebEx or Internet meeting tools. As smart phone users start using their smart phones or tablets as their primary computing device, customers would like to share their screens with others during meetings or for any collaboration. Today with a globally dispersed workforce and crowd-sourcing and mobile workforce - there is a bigger need to share. Bringing the ability to share the user screen is a very good feature to have.

Users can also do video chat with the encrypted security of Blackberry Messenger. This is again a good feature copied from PC domain and improved with Blackberry encryption security to provide a secure video conferencing capabilities on the mobile platform.

Blackberry® Screen Share is a feature borrowed from the PC domain and well executed in the mobile space. I guess this feature will be more valuable in tablets and large screen mobiles of the future.

4. Business Application

Understanding that companies are the prime customers for Blackberry® and corporate customers would like to have dedicated enterprise apps for their employees, Blackberry® has created development kit, development portal and storefront to easily port, develop, integrate, deploy, secure and manage enterprise apps for business.

Customer can develop business apps that can be managed via BES10 and Blackberry® Balance. This clear segmentation helps companies to develop enterprise apps for mobiles with security in mind and not worry about employees walking away with business applications.

This may appear as a simple extension of existing SDKs, but BB10 is taking it to a new level - opening up a big opportunity for enterprise IT teams to fully embrace the mobile platform as a complete solution to deliver enterprise IT solutions. With  Blackberry Business Application, companies can create their own file sharing systems for mobiles, their own ERP systems on mobiles etc.. In short, Blackberry® Business Application will create an enterprise 'Intranet' world for business apps.

5. Blackberry hub and Gesture based user Interface

The blackberry hub is an innovative feature that clubs all communication apps in one place. An intuitive way to help users respond to various communications:- Email, BBM, SMS, Social Networks, chat, IM etc..

Personally I do not think too much of the hub, and the same functionality has been provided in other smart phones in different ways - but blackberry has been able to standardize it into a form of universal Inbox. Users who use multiple emails, BBM, SMS, IM etc. will find this useful, but can also overwhelm the users. I guess that the Hub will evolve into a much better interface in future releases.

For me, the best innovation in user interface is the gesture based UI. This is another good idea copied from the web browsers - which introduced mouse gestures for navigation, and improved it for the mobile platform.

The gesture based navigation and user interface is a big help in moving between multiple apps and multitasking. Though the multitasking function is not new to smart phones and the limited screen size of phones is a blocker - but on a tablet this could be very valuable.

Other UI features worth noting in BB10 is the new touch screen Key pad  with predictive text - which makes typing easy just like on Android phones and the Active Tiles idea borrowed from Windows 8, but its not really active tiles - but displays app related information in the tile.

Note worthy Feature: Home Screen & Usability

The home screen has three buttons at the bottom:  Phone, Search, and Camera. At the top of the screen is the standard stuff: time, battery, cell phone radio signal level and it still has the classic blinking LED.

BB10 retains its classic email & calendar application - which is far superior than the email & calendar apps in iPhone or Android. Outlook for Windows 8 has a better email & calendar app.
Multitasking is another area where BB10 beats iPhone. Every app is fully running in the background and is not paused like in iPhone or Android. But this has a major impact on the battery life - especially, if you have an active web browser open in the background.

Usability of BB10 is vastly superior than other Smart phone platforms - mainly due to use of gestures. A half swipe from the left screen edge shows all communication alerts.

User Apps

Blackberry has the third largest number of Apps in the mobile world, and Blackberry has taken extraordinary steps to get Andriod apps ported to BB10 platform via App port-a-thon contests and BB10 uses the same Java framework as Andriod - which makes it easy top port apps from Andriod to BB10. All the popular apps are already present for BB10 and over the next year I expect BB10 app platform to be almost on par with other platforms, and even beat iPhone and Andriod when it comes to enterprise apps.

Entertainment & Games Apps are not the strong point in BB10, the choice of music or movie or video apps is limited and so are the number of providers. Kindle and Kindle store is yet to be supported on BB10 (at the time of writing). Apple's iTunes and Goggle YouTube Apps are much better in an iPhone. But then average BB10 users are not heavy users of entertainment or games. If BB10 wants to become a leader in Smart Phones, then Blackberry will have to work hard in the area of user entertainment.

My Verdict

From all aspects, BB10 OS is designed to be more than a smart phone - it is designed as a complete mobile computing platform. BB10 is designed for business users in mind - for people who use emails, calendar, BBM, IM, Web Meetings, VPN etc.. BB10 along with BES10 provides for a well managed mobile platform for safe and secure communications.

The Z10 handset is well designed and is on par with its competition: iPhone5, or Samsung Galaxy S3

As a smart phone, BB10 has good Apps, an innovative & intuitive user interface. All this makes BB10 a very attractive handset for the business users - both corporate and small business owners - who value secure & reliable communications.  But BB10 falls short for the non-business users. Poor entertainment & gaming apps, higher price, inferior camera, and lower display quality when compared to Samsung Galaxy S3, or Nexus phones or iPhone5.

Summing it up: I would use BB10 only if business communication is my number one priority. For entertainment or gaming or lifestyle statement purpose - I would go with Galaxy S3 or Note2 or iPhone5.

Currently I have an iPhone 4 and will not change to Blackberry10, unless my employer buys and give one to me. At Rs 50,000 including taxes, Blackberry Z10 is in the same price range as Apple iPhone5 and Samsung S3. In addition, there is the Blackberry service premium of Rs 12,000 per year. At that price, Blackberry Z10 is way too expensive for a BYOD - especially when there is no special feature for the end user. The real value of Blackberry10 is for the enterprise with BES10 management.


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Arun Kottolli said...

As I had predicted, Blackberry z10 is failing miserably in the BYOD world

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