3 Features I will miss from BlackBerry OS

While the BlackBerry smartphone efforts are certainly dead, it is worthwhile to look at the niceties it will take to its grave.

I’m definitely no BlackBerry fanboy, quite the opposite. But I had to use a BlackBerry device for the past year for work. And while it’s true that you don’t want a BB device for reasons like the missing software & hardware ecosystem, I would like to share a few things I actually miss on other systems.

What bugs me about the current analysis of tech software is the dealing in absolutes: Apple and Android won the smartphone wars — therefore they had to be right with their product decisions. Of course not. Just because iOS debuted the overcrowded “one icon per app”-homescreen, this doesn’t make it the best visual metaphor for navigating around. (Because even Apple didn’t expect this many installed apps per user in the beginning.)

So here are my top 3 things I wish will be copied one day.

The Keyboard

I’m not talking about hardware keyboards — very different topic. What BlackBerry got right, maybe because of their existing data from keyboard-centric users, is the software keyboard. Since the beginning they have personalised, predictive vocabulary and spacing. Others have that as well but on BlackBerry it works best for my needs, period. Could be that they are better trained in the german language. It’s very easy to introduce predicted words into your typing flow — just swipe up. And in a time where every password has to have numbers in it, the extra row for numbers is helpful.

BlackBerry 10 Word prediction in action

The “Hub”

Boy, do I wish Android or the iPhone had such a “meta communication view”. I communicate on phone, mail, text message and a gazillion different chat clients. The Hub lists all of them in one chronological view. No need to switch apps.

The Hub is also searchable

I also would like to see a meta view for contacts, but this is Palm territory.

Blackberry ported the Hub to Android, but you can’t reply directly and if you don’t look out you get notifications twice.

Blackberry Hub for Android in Action

It’s essential to understand that no chat service is incentivized to allow its content in another UI, therefore no app will ever be able to solve this holistically.

To break these data silos you have to get to a deeper layer, the OS.

3rd Party Integration

Being a late follower means you can’t set standards, but you always can decide to pick the “open standard”. By that I mean it’s certainly helping that BlackBerry offers microSD, removable battery and even compatibility to Android apps, but they had to do it out of weakness.

What I want to focus on is the software layer, and yes, BlackBerry did bake the most common web services right in. There’s a settings sub menu where you input all your accounts. Then

  • Dropbox files are in the open file-dialog,
  • Facebook contacts get synced with local contacts,
  • the preinstalled Notes app syncs with Evernote.
Dropbox integration inside the File Browser

The 3rd party actors can also display content inside the Hub. Thus the need for an extra app is reduced or eliminated.

Bonus

You navigate the different OS layers with gestures from the display edges. For comparison, imagine an iPad with only Four-Finger-Gestures instead of a physical home button. This makes it obviously more difficult for beginners. But: The moment you internalise the control scheme it’s actually pretty efficient. For example you get Peek:

The Flow UI makes it easy to multitask thanks to its Peek feature. Users can swipe in from the left side of the screen anywhere to reveal the BlackBerry Hub from which they can view and response to their recent messages.

And to finish things off, a minor detail that saves me daily about 10 seconds: Hotspot login credentials (the stuff you see in every hotel, restaurant or other guarded place wifi) are saved, no need to type in the password every time.

👨‍💻 Product Owner @fluidmobile. ✍️ Writes mostly about the intersection of Tech, UX & Business strategy.