The new and long-awaited Blackberry 10 line from Research In Motion (RIM) makes its debut today. The company that once defined the smart phone market has a lot riding on it, and it remains to be seen if the new models debuting today will revive its fortunes. It’s already revived its name: Thorsten Heins, President and CEO, revealed at the launch today that “from this day forward, RIM becomes Blackberry.”
The two models that kick off its re-engineered approach to mobile computing are the Blackberry Q10 with a hybrid touch-screen/keyboard and the Z10 with a full touch-screen and onscreen keyboard, powered by the Blackberry 10 platform. Of the Q10, Heins said, “We built this for all those people who told us, ‘we just have to have a physical keyboard typing experience’.” Given Blackberry users’ well-known attachment to traditional keyboards, getting the onscreen keyboard right is going to be a big concern for tried-and-true Blackberry users.
As on the Blackberry Playbook before it, SwiftKey – the best-selling Android app of 2012— is reportedly behind the virtual keyboard technology on the new models. Though that vendor wasn’t named in the launch presentation during the demo of the touch-screen keyboard capabilities, the features Blackberry demonstrated pointed to the company’s leveraging the cross-platform SwiftKey software development kit for at least some of the new devices' capabilities.
And what’s behind SwiftKey is natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning technology to speed up touch-screen typing.
Your Smart Onscreen Keyboard
According to SwiftKey, that’s “because it understands the way words work together,” so that it can predict and correct text input in a smarter way. It also brings personalization to the text input experience, because it learns the words and phrases that matter to individual users – including by syncing with their Facebook, Twitter, or Gmail accounts – so that it can intelligently auto-correct and make predictions based on personal writing styles.
The NLP technology that helps understand relations between words and provide predictions and the machine learning tech for driving dynamic adaptation to a user’s lingo and physical typing style are both home-grown. SwiftKey supports more than 50 languages, including three at the same time for the multi-lingual crowd. (Hindi, Hinglish and Irish Gaeilge are its most recent supported languages.)
Additionally, the recently launched SwiftKey Flow brings gesture typing to the picture: It analyzes a user’s input from the moment they start to ‘flow’ a word, offering real-time predictions of what the word will be based on its knowledge of a user’s writing habits, and lets them type sentences without lifting a finger from the keyboard.
At the launch event, Vivek Bhardwaj, head of Blackberry's software portfolio, demonstrated gesture features such as “flicking” words right to the screen, and swiping to the left to quickly delete words or swiping down to add dates or numbers. “But we wanted to do more than building gestures and one-thumb typing, we wanted to understand exactly what you are saying,” Bhardwaj said. He demonstrated the device’s multi-language support as he switched between French, German and English, and also showed the auto-correct capabilities in action. “If you’re typing fast, in a real rush, you make mistakes,” he said. “We drop them in and correct that, too.”
Said Heins at the event, “We have the aspiration to be the best keyboard, period.”
More in Store
The launch also played up the theme of the Blackberry’s ability to aggregate information for users intuitively and adapt to their needs, such as pulling into its new Blackberry Hub information from sources such as LinkedIn and Facebook -- “immediate information that is relevant to you, that you need at that very moment, in real time,” according to Heins. “That is the benefit of Hub. You don’t have to search anymore.”
Also on the agenda is making Blackberry central to the Internet of Things. “We intend to lead the move from mobile communications to mobile computing, to true mobile computing,” Heins said. “You will be in the middle of your personal Internet of Things. We will be a leader in connecting you to your Internet of Things. We have created a platform that is able to work with other machines to extend you and your information beyond the mobile device to your car, your home, your healthcare system or wherever you are.”
Other highlights of the event included showing off Blackberry Flow, which the mobile device vendor described as being about moving in between applications, by swiping to open or minimize apps running in real time – it's not about home buttons and opening and closing apps, it said. Blackberry also pointed out that 70,000 apps are committed to the new platform, Angry Birds among them.
Oh, and by the way, Alicia Keys is Blackberry’s new global creative director.
In the U.S. the Blackberry Z10 should be available in March, but the U.K.’s leading the pack with availability tomorrow. The Q10 may be available in April.