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Research In Motion’s new BlackBerry software looks cool, but I don’t have high hopes for it.
BlackBerry 10, which is slated to start showing up on RIM smartphones later this year, has some innovative new features that will set it apart from Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.
But the update is years late, and the new software is not far-and-away superior to iOS or Android. Perhaps worst of all, RIM is ignoring the needs of current BlackBerry customers by failing to provide them with an easy transition.
We’ve seen this play before, and we know how it ends: In disaster.
The BlackBerry software has long needed an overhaul. Compared with Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7, RIM’s OS is ugly and difficult to use. It was designed before touch-screen phones were the norm and, though modified to work on those devices, looks and feels jerry-built.
By contrast, the new OS, which I got a glimpse of earlier this month at a meeting with RIM representatives, looks and feels contemporary. It’s designed from the ground up for large-display, touch-screen devices, with large icons and full-screen, well-designed applications. Taking a page from Microsoft, it includes program tiles that can act like widgets, showing updated information such as the current weather or stock price.
One neat feature, called Flow UI, allows users to view alerts, such as new email messages, by swiping from one corner. By swiping
further, they can directly switch to the application that sent the alert. Flow also allows users to switch back and forth between their inbox and an individual message by simply swiping. The system is intuitive to use and an improvement on similar features found in iOS and Android.
BlackBerry 10 has other compelling features. Notably, its camera application allows users to instantly improve photos of friends or family members whose eyes are closed. The app both recognizes faces and starts recording images before you press the shutter button. If the face in your photo doesn’t look right, you can replace it immediately with the same face captured instants before.
But as innovative as these features may be, I don’t think they’ll save RIM, which has seen its market share and sales slide sharply in recent years thanks to competition from Android and Apple.
Partly that’s because BlackBerry 10 is really late to the party. It’s been five years since Apple released the first iPhone and revolutionized the smartphone market. It’s been nearly four years since the first Android phones hit store shelves.
RIM should have come out with a revamped BlackBerry software three or four years ago, before Android and iOS took over the market. Now, at best, its going to be scrounging for third place with Microsoft, whose own updated phone software still hasn’t caught on with the general public despite coming out nearly two years ago.
BlackBerry 10 is not just too late but also too little; it isn’t a big enough advance in the fast-moving smartphone market. Apple’s iOS and Android took off in part because they were vast improvements on what preceded them, the first-generation of smartphone software from the likes of Nokia, Palm and, yes, RIM.
BlackBerry 10 is a big improvement on the old BlackBerry software, but isn’t revolutionary or compelling enough to lure consumers back to BlackBerry from their iPhones or Android devices.
So that leaves RIM with trying to retain its existing BlackBerry customers. With some 77 million active BlackBerry users worldwide, that’s a significant customer base. But RIM isn’t making it easy for them to stick around.
Despite sharing a name, the BlackBerry 10 is unrelated to previous versions of the BlackBerry software and won’t run older BlackBerry apps. Consumers who have invested in BlackBerry programs face the prospect of buying all new ones if they upgrade to a BlackBerry 10 phone. And companies that have designed a suite of BlackBerry applications for their employees could soon find those being obsolete.
In either situation, current customers are almost certainly going to ask if it’s worth it to switch to BlackBerry 10. If they are faced with the prospect of changing to a whole new platform anyway, they almost certainly will consider switching instead to one of the market leaders: iOS or Android.
It’s amazing to me that RIM is forsaking its older BlackBerry customers in this way, especially after seeing what’s happened to Palm and Nokia. Like RIM, both of those companies replaced their aging smartphone operating systems with new and improved ones that were years late and incompatible. The result: Their older customers abandoned them. Palm ended up in history’s dustbin, and Nokia, which last week announced it was laying off another 10,000 workers, is in danger of heading the same way.
RIM looks to be following the same path.
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When it comes to smartphones, I’m an iPhone guy. But I’ve long appreciated HTC’s Android phones.
The first Android phone I really liked was HTC’s Galaxy Nexus. I also was a big fan of the Nexus’ sibling, the Droid Incredible.
But over the past year or so, HTC has struggled to make phones that stood out in the increasingly crowded Android marketplace. It’s lost share to Samsung, which has focused on phones with jumbo, brilliantly lit screens.
Now HTC is trying to stage a comeback. Earlier this year, it announced a new flagship line of phones dubbed One. The first two models in the line, the One S and the One X, recently hit store shelves at T-Mobile and ATT, respectively.
I’ve been testing out both phones and generally like what I’ve seen. I don’t consider either one a must-have, but they are both worth a serious look if you are in the market for an Android device.
Of the two, I was immediately drawn to the One S. I’ve not been a big fan of phones with screens larger than 4 inches because they tend to be unwieldy to use with one hand. But the One S is super-sleek.
Despite having the same 4.3-inch screen as Motorola’s Droid Razr, the One S is lighter. It’s also nearly as thin as the Razr without having a raised bump for its camera. Instead, the One S’s back is flat with rounded edges and feels great in the hand.
With a 4.7-inch screen, the One X is noticeably bigger than the One S. Although it shares the same basic
design and is only slightly heavier, its bulk makes it feel clumsy in my hands.
The two phones’ screens differ not just in size but also in underlying technology and resolution. The One S has an organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, display, which offers richer colors and deeper blacks than the One X’s LCD display, but looks a bit dimmer in bright light.
As one might expect from a bigger screen, the One X’s shows more pixels than the One S’s, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Some apps designed for smaller displays appear stretched out or have ultra-tiny buttons.
Still, the One S and the One X have a lot in common. Both have fast dual-core processors, an adequate but not ample amount of storage — 16 gigabytes — and the latest version of Android, which is known as Ice Cream Sandwich.
On both phones, though, HTC has decided to forgo the virtual system buttons that Google (GOOG) built into Ice Cream Sandwich that change in number and appearance from application to application. Instead, HTC is sticking with the permanent and fixed touch-sensitive buttons that used to be found on all Android phones. I think that’s a good choice; I’ve found the ever-changing system buttons in the latest version of Android to be confusing.
Both phones also run the latest version of HTC’s Sense interface on top of Android. I’ve always liked Sense, an easier-to-use interface than what ships with the standard version of Android. HTC streamlined the interface a bit in the new version and added one cool feature that helps its devices continue to stand out from other Android phones.
Recently used applications are displayed as cards that are rotated slightly. You can swipe left and right to access various apps. And you can close applications by swiping up. It looks a lot like the multi-tasking system of Palm’s webOS, which I loved, and I was happy to see HTC borrow the idea.
One of the key features HTC is touting in the One line of phones is their super-fast cameras.
I take a lot of pictures on cellphones, and it can be a really frustrating experience. They tend to do a poor job in low-light situations and many are just too slow to capture pictures of fast-moving kids or animals.
But I was impressed with the cameras on the One phones, at least in terms of their speed. They shoot photos almost instantaneously. And if you keep the shutter button pressed down, they’ll shoot continuously until you have no more storage space left — if you want to go that long. When you stop shooting, the phones will help you select the best shot; you can either keep all the ones you shot in a row, or simply the best one.
Neither phone is perfect. Thanks to its giant screen, the One X seemed to gobble up its battery power fairly quickly, even in moderate use.
Meanwhile, the One S suffers from its service provider; as I drove around the Bay Area, I found numerous spots where I either couldn’t get T-Mobile’s service on the One S, or where I could only get its aging 2G network. The One S I tested also had a bug that caused it to mysteriously reboot several times, even when I wasn’t using it.
Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285 or email@example.com. Follow him at www.mercurynews.com/troy-wolverton or Twitter.com/troywolv.
HTC One S
Likes: Super-fast camera; sleek design; easy-to-use interface
Dislikes: Spotty coverage; bug causes random reboots
Specs: 1.5 GHz dual-core processor; 16 gigabytes of storage; 4.3-inch OLED screen; 8-megapixel rear and sub-1-megapixel front cameras
Price: $200 with two-year T-Mobile contract
HTC One X
Likes: Fast-shooting camera; easy-to-use interface; speedy 4G LTE coverage
Dislikes: Bulky; big screen limits battery life; some apps appear stretched out on big screen
Specs: 1.5 GHz dual-core processor; 16 gigabytes of storage; 4.7-inch LCD screen; 8-megapixel rear and sub-1-megapixel front cameras
Price: $200 with two-year ATT contract