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Sheena Lyonnais: "Microsoft and Apple should be nervous because BlackBerry's back, baby!"

 BlackBerry Z10 Horizontal Angle

RIM officially changes name to BlackBerry. Alicia Keys announced as company’s new global creative director. Blackberry debuts both touch screen (Z10) and qwerty (Q10) versions of BB10. Touch screen is available in Canada next week.

The new BlackBerry is here and all signs suggest the company has nailed it. Sleek design, adaptive and innovative features, forward-thinking usability, a vastly improved media centre, and more than 70,000 apps are just a few of the compelling features announced at this morning’s BlackBerry 10 launch.

As CEO Thorsten Heins said in his keynote presentation in New York, BlackBerry absolutely knew it was risky when, two years ago, the company faced a tough decision. Adapt another platform or start all over. The company chose the latter and created an entirely new platform from scratch, calling the innovations a first in the smartphone world. He says it’s worth the wait.

“We have been on a journey of transformation, not only to transform our business and our brand, but one I truly believe will transform mobile communications into true mobile computers,” he said.

We had a chance to test out the new devices at the launch event in Toronto. As a current BlackBerry user, the two areas I was most interested in seeing improvements were in the software’s current lag and the poor quality of the camera. Both have been updated.

The Z10 features a 4.2″ LCD display screen, with 1280×768 resolution and 356 PPI, a significant improvement over existing models. It features an 8 MP rear-facing camera with autofocus, 5x digital zoom and 1080p HD video recording, and a 2MP front-facing camera with 3x digital zoom and 720p video recording.

 BlackBerry Q10 Front

It’s here the advancements get me most excited. A new feature records a few seconds before and after an image is taken, allowing the user to adjust the photo and even hone in on individual faces. If someone in your group closed their eyes, for example, you can focus in on his face and choose another moment before or after. Suddenly everyone in the photo is looking and smiling.  It also now has built in Instagram-like after effects and pictures can be taken by tapping anywhere on the screen.

I haven’t played around enough with the device to know if the camera is as good as the iPhone’s. At first glance it didn’t appear to be, but the video streaming quality challenges this. The launch of app StoryMaker will likely excite content enthusiasts. You can grab photos and videos from your folders, choose a song from your playlist, add effects such as vintage and make a banging slideshow/video literally in seconds.

Beyond the media centre, BlackBerry has developed some key usability features. Calling it BlackBerry flow, it’s now easy to navigate between apps and features without closing anything or hitting a home key. A simple slide of the finger allows you to peek at things, a godsend for those of us addicted to the checking the flashing red light or suffering from what I like to call mobile ADD.

And BBM! BBM video is now a thing, allowing users to have video conversations with BBM friends. There’s also an option to share your screen with your friend, ideal for business and sharing photos.

The anticipation was huge for this event and the room in Toronto truly felt like it was full of proud Canadians genuinely excited about BlackBerry’s comeback, complete with cheering and a standing ovation. I was speaking with a few people after the event to try to get a better understanding of the post-launch feel towards the device. One man, an Android fan boy and huge tech enthusiast, told me he wasn’t expecting to leave the event with his opinion changed, but found himself impressed and excited over the launch, even considering switching back to BlackBerry.

The BlackBerry Z10 will be out February 5 in Canada, but the Q10′s release date has yet to be announced. The devices will start at $149 on select three-year plans.

Microsoft and Apple should be nervous because BlackBerry’s back, baby. Employing Alicia Keys as the company’s global creative director is a sign of the company’s new forward-thinking approach. She’ll be working with key demographics (entrepreneurs, artists, and working moms) to gather feedback and user needs, working closely with RIM to continue advancing the services.

Debuting with 70,000 apps, the largest in the history of platform launches, and partnering up with companies such as Skype who were hesitant to develop apps for BlackBerry before, is another telling sign of the company’s comeback. When I popped into the Bell store at Yonge/College post-launch, people were already pre-ordering the devices.

BlackBerry knew this launch was do or die and they came out like Spartans.

 BlackBerry Z10 White To Angle


Sheena Lyonnais is a Toronto-based writer. Follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.

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