BlackBerry Jam Americas 2012 kicked off this week in San Jose, California. Research in Motion has had a quiet year, not releasing much in the way of marquee handsets or operating systems, choosing to bide its time and build up its upcoming massive operating system update, BlackBerry 10, which will supposedly become available, along with new BlackBerry handsets, in January of next year.
Not a whole lot has been known about BlackBerry 10 until now, when the company showed off some of the new features running on a device made for developers to play around with the new OS.
BlackBerry Messenger will be a little cleaner, and less reliant on menus. You’ll be able to access chats, group chats, groups, lists, and events all from the display screen, without having to dive down into menus. That’s probably not important to anyone who isn’t already invested in BlackBerry Messenger, but for those who are, it looks like great news.
But, BlackBerry has always been targeted at people in business, so it makes sense that BlackBerry Hub is probably the most important upgrade in BlackBerry 10. It’s the unified inbox, evolved – all of your emails, BBMs, texts, Facebook messages, Twitter messages, and pretty much any other messages you receive will show up in one place. On top of that, you can swipe down from the top of your inbox to access upcoming events on your calendar, and you can also view messages organized by which event they relate to. If you get a notification while in another app that you have a message, you can now peek into the Hub by swiping to the right and holding your finger down – you’ll be able to view the inbox and decide whether or not you want to read the new message right away. If you don’t, you can swipe right back to the app you were using and continue what you were doing.
Active Frames are the name given to minimized apps. This feature is really poorly named, because it’s pretty much a thesaurused version of Live Tiles, though Research in Motion wants to assure you it is most definitely not a copy of Microsoft’s now famous squares. Unfortunately, though the look is different, the idea behind them is much the same as the one behind Live Tiles. Active Frames will be larger – they’ll take up about a corner of the screen, and will be filled with information that will be updated in real-time. App developers can decide what kind of information is shown on the Active Frames, so it’ll always be context specific. The BBM Active Frame, for example, will show new messages or new pictures recently added to a BBM group.
The last bit of significant news we’re hearing is that BlackBerry App World will now sell music, movies, and television shows. How good will the selection be, and will it be able to hold a candle to what iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon are currently offering? Who knows, but it’s good news for the BlackBerry faithful.
And, therein lies the problem. BlackBerry 10 looks great for those already invested in the BlackBerry way of life, but from what we’ve seen so far, it’s difficult to conclusively state that this operating system has the power to lure people away from other brands. BlackBerry actually has expanded its subscriber base this year, by 2 million, but much of that increase is coming from sales in the developing world. The brand is losing a lot of traction in the big markets, like the United States. It’s still early, but right now, we can’t say that BlackBerry 10 is the silver bullet that will make BlackBerry relevant again. Time will tell.