If this sounds like flagrant copying, that’s because it probably is – and that isn’t a bad strategy. The reason Google’s Android operating system is so popular (and the reason Apple has been on the intellectual property lawsuit warpath as of late) is because it mimics what people already love about smartphones. People love things for a reason.
In fact, there’s no clearer signs of a complete corporate turnaround in Waterloo than RIM’s acceptance of this philosophy. The old RIM, the one that invented smartphones, would have looked at something like Angry Birds and thought, “This is frivolous garbage. They use our phones in the CIA.”
The new RIM? The new RIM went out and lobbied for a version of Angry Birds on the Z10 like it was manna from heaven.
After including all the other phones’ greatest hits on its own device, RIM then added a few features all its own, building on the kind of stuff BlackBerrys are already famous for doing right. Chief among these features is the BlackBerry Hub, a page where all your notifications reside in one place. Whatever app you’re using, or wherever you are in the phone, when you want to check all your notifications at once, you simply swipe up from the bottom of the phone. The Hub then peeks out at you. If you need to check the messages, you flick to the side and do so. If not, you let go and the Hub disappears, all as the app you were previously in keeps humming along.
The Z10 uses a lot of the swipe features from the PlayBook tablet. If you want to bring up the Settings page, Wi-Fi and other vital info, you swipe from the top of the phone down. When the phone’s asleep, you wake it up by swiping up from the bottom and watching as the sleep screen evaporates in a way that’s actually kind of gorgeous. Think about that for a second: RIM building an otherwise useless design feature purely because it looks pretty. This is a different company.
The other place where swiping becomes integral is when typing. The Z10’s virtual keyboard is, on the surface, pretty much the same as most other keyboards. Except it comes packed with a ton of features that are going to be very frustrating at first, but will eventually make your life easier (I think).
The first is predictive text. A lot of phones try to guess what you’re typing, but RIM goes a step further by trying to guess what you’ll be typing next. In theory, this means you’ll eventually be able to sit back and have your clairvoyant superphone see what you’re thinking.
In reality, this is how my first typing experience on the Z10 went:
“Typing on this thing is pret”
Oh, there’s the word “pretty” hovering over one of the keys. That’s exactly the word I’m looking for. Now to just swipe up and save myself a couple of clicks...
“Typing on this thing is pree”
Umm, oops, guess I just hit the key instead of swiping up. Let’s try one more time.
“Typing on this thing is peet”
No. That doesn’t make any sense. OK, really, really swiping up this time. Here we go.
“Typing on this thing is pregnant”
Oh, come on.
This is going to happen to you a lot until you sync your gestures with the phone’s tactile temperament. But once you get the hang of it, life does become easier. The phone is creepily good at predicting what you’re going to type next, especially if you’re hammering out a generic response or boilerplate text message. In fact, when writing certain throwaway messages, I basically gave up on whatever I was trying to say in the first place and just let the phone paraphrase for me.