RIM CEO: BlackBerry 6 is a 'next-gen platform' £389.99

29th Apr 2010 | 10:10

RIM CEO: BlackBerry 6 is a 'next-gen platform'

Mike Lazaridis talks multitasking and a new UI

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

A great phone that once again leads the BlackBerry pack. Almost certain to be a bigger hit than the first Bold, and that's saying something

Like:

Speedy interface; Smooth controls; Stylish chassis

Dislike:

Slow internet browser; Dating OS; Slightly cramped keyboard

What's new in BlackBerry 6

Not surprisingly, the president and co-CEO of RIM loves his BlackBerry.

Mike Lazaridis is using the new Pearl 3G and when he spots that it's barely larger than the digital recorder we're using for the interview he balances it on the table and records the meeting himself as a video.

"It's so small! On top of everything else it does, the Pearl has this incredible... not just the auto focus, but this automatic gain control on it that rivals these digital recorders. What's cool about it is you can store it all to SD card or you can email it to yourself…"

Lazaridis is equally excited about where BlackBerry 6 is going, which he calls a "very natural" transition to "a next generation platform" – but also admits is a long-needed spring clean.

"These are really capable consumer devices, but really the last frontier for us was to go back and overhaul a UI that goes back more than a decade from its early inception to its guiding principles to its constant evolution and development.

"All the features people have been asking us to put in over the last decade had made the menu structure get bigger and bigger and bigger and the first thing we had to do was go in and clean that up."

BlackBerry multitasking

The user research involved in testing that revealed a surprising thing. BlackBerry has had multitasking for years but Lazaridis says "people thought didn't it multitask because it was so seamlessly integrated between apps. The menus are all contextual.

"You can copy and paste, you can identify addresses, phone numbers, pin numbers, websites - it doesn't matter what context you're in, what third-party app you're using, if you're in the calendar or in the inbox it all works seamlessly. So people thought it was one massive monolithic thing. We realised that people really like the way this thing multitasks - but they are not aware it multitasks!"

BlackBerry 6 won't make it more obvious, either; "We didn't want to lose that. In an effort to meet the marketing spin on multitasking we would have had to go backwards and make multitasking more obvious, which would have defeated the whole point of why they love BlackBerry."

The graphic design and aesthetics of BlackBerry 6 changed dramatically from the earliest designs: "What we thought was going to work, what we thought we would try and where we ended up were completely different."

Lazaridis admits to having had concerns during the process but he thinks "when you see it all together, actually, this looks really, really good, but you can still tell it's a BlackBerry - it didn't lose its identity in the process."

Improvements in BlackBerry 6

Beyond what he calls "all the pizzazz and the fun stuff" of the new-look interface (like a two-finger gesture for using zoom and the animations and transitions, which will still work when you upgrade existing handsets to BlackBerry 6), there are solid improvements in BlackBerry 6, like the new WebKit browser, and HTML email based on that.

As well as the vertical swipe from the Storm, there's a horizontal gesture that's he thinks is especially useful because of the way you can use the BlackBerry inbox to work with so many different apps, from replying to Twitter direct messages to seeing alerts on your credit card.

"You don't have to go out and find all the other apps and open them up and see where all these notifications are occurring. That's the current model of multitasking [on other platforms]; there are all these other apps and you have to walk through them and figure out what's current, kind of a like a PC.

"On a BlackBerry we've got the one inbox, our core system, and that can have all these apps dropping in notifications that go away after you use them. The notification is just really a pointer; it's like a hyperlink into the app… so you get a Facebook notification and you respond, you exit out - and it drops you back into the inbox and that notification is gone, you don't have to worry about clutter."

The side swipe is a way of getting to information that doesn't come to your inbox. "You want to take a look at your calendar- wouldn't it just be nice to push stuff over and take a sneak peek at your calendar and then put it back? The idea of being able to move between your favourites and your bookmarks and your apps just by going left and right - it's pretty powerful."

More new BlackBerry handsets coming

Lazaridis won't be drawn on whether there are BlackBerry handsets under development that will combine a keyboard and touchscreen. We suggested that the Bold could get a touch screen or the Storm could gain a real keyboard to take advantage of these new gestures and he did point out that RIM plans to launch more than the Pearl 3G this year.

"How many devices did we launch last year? 10 at least. We've got a few left to come this year." But he emphasises that keyboard users won't be left out: "The design brief was that it had to work with the trackpad as well as the touch screen so it can go across the whole spectrum of devices."

When we ask about his plans for getting to the 100 million BlackBerry users he's predicted for next year (more than double the current 41 million) in the face of iPhone 4 and Android's increasing popularity, he mentions BlackBerry's advantages like long battery life and bandwidth efficiency and the fact that there are so many form factors already.

People want choice

"People want the choice of keyboard and screens - and they also want a choice of different styles and colours and they want personalisation. We have the right products and the right experiences to continue to lead this industry."

He also believes that "competition is a good thing" – for RIM and for the other players in the market – as long as the comparisons are fair. "If you take a look at what's happening with other devices, I think you've got to be very careful. They're often given a lot of slack and that gets people into trouble. You have to ask yourself 'is it really multitasking? Is it really push?' because if it's not done right you end up with something that really isn't what you want and really isn't something you can afford. And I think this whole security thing is way under-rated."

He calls the QNX acquisition "a big deal, a very big deal" for making the BlackBerry integrate with car systems (an area where Android has been getting more interest than iPhone recently).

"The biggest problem we've had, for all this adoption of all this cool stuff it's all disparate system that have to be put together - even with the Bluetooth standard it's still a confusing thing. So what we're going to so with QNX is to make it all automatic.

"We've got all kinds of very interesting things you can do when you're connected; the car can use your device, you can use the car… It's very cool stuff. All these things you've been hearing about, all these futuristic visions - the concept cars of apps and interoperability - we're actually going to pull it off!"

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Liked this? Then check out Hands on: BlackBerry Pearl 3G review

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