I remember getting my first BlackBerry like it was yesterday -- the 7100t. I had an actual physical keyboard on my cell phone. I loved it and felt like I was holding the future in the palm of my hand.
Over the years I went through two more BlackBerrys before I finally moved to an iPhone. What happened during that time is the quintessential cautionary tale about how NOT to respond to competition if you're a technology company. RIM never got, or cared to get, what people loved about the iPhone when it debuted in 2007. Their execs publicly stated on several occasions that they believed no one would want to use a touchscreen to type on.
Billions of touchscreen smartphones later, it's clear how wrong they were.
It took a long time, a series of fits and starts (don't even get me started on the BlackBerry Playbook) -- as well as corporate software acquisitions -- but almost six years after the iPhone was released, we finally have RIM's official iPhone and Android competitor, the Z10. I was able to play with one for a little while and I came away impressed.
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The Z10 is a beautiful piece of hardware, having the least amount of physical buttons of any phone I've ever used. There is no "home" button, as you instead swipe up to go back to your home screen. It packs a 4.2-inch screen and its specs, radios, cameras etc. are all on par with the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3.
The real question about this phone, and about the future of the BlackBerry platform in general, is how well the new BlackBerry 10 OS works. Its biggest feature is what RIM calls "Flow," which essentially is a faster way of switching back and forth between apps than the process iOS and Android uses. For example, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to access small thumbnails of each running app, then tap to select what you want. Swipe to the left to launch other apps, or swipe to the right to get to "BlackBerry Hub," which is an inbox that combines all your e-mail accounts, Twitter and Facebook notifications. And in a nod to the past, the Z10 even comes with the familiar tiny blinking red light to notify you when you have a message without activating the screen. I always loved that feature.
RIM knows that to survive in the smartphone market today you need apps, and lots of them. Their app store -- BlackBerry World -- offers more than 70,000 apps. Most of the heavy hitters are represented, such as Twitter, Facebook, The New York Times, MLB at Bat, etc., but there are notable iPhone apps that I just couldn't live without, such as Feedly, Flipboard, Tweetbot, The Island Packet (naturally!), Downcast, Disney Junior and many others.
This is where the problem of ceding the App Store model to Apple and Google for so long really bites RIM -- there simply isn't enough here to make me think about switching when I've already invested so heavily in a different system.
So is the Z10 worth your hard-earned $199 and a two-year contract? To me this is the ultimate "in a world without the iPhone or Android..." device. I'd take it over the Windows Phone because of its innovations in the UI department, and I do love the ultimate unified inbox of BlackBerry Hub.
It's hard to recommend trading in your iPhone or Android, but for anyone who hasn't jumped on the smartphone bandwagon, the BlackBerry Z10 is a worthy alternative. And for those "CrackBerry" addicts who are still out there, this is the phone you've been waiting for. My only concern is that this platform will never gain enough traction to get the best developers out there creating apps for BlackBerry 10 OS. Of course the app developers won't come until people start buying the phone so unfortunately, it's a chicken and egg problem for RIM.
Morgan Bonner is pre-press manager and a systems administrator for the Packet and Gazette.