Blackberry 10’s User Interface


2 of 5 stars
What’s this?

Research in Motion’s make-or-break Blackberry 10 is out today. It sports a completely new operating system, with a user interface designed by RIM-acquired The Astonishing Tribe. Ahead of the official announcement, there’s a cache of screen grabs over at BGR that reveal the UI to be remarkably… okay.

Blackberry 10

The Blackberry brand has never been synonymous with outstanding design, and RIM seems intent on at least acknowledging the new reality of highly designed smartphone interfaces — but it can manage little more than that, judging from these screens. None of what is on display here — the clean yet unremarkable typography, the tasteful but de rigueur color gradients, the straightforward but rudimentary iconography, the communicative but nearly featureless spinners, arrows and other visual cues — is particularly distinctive or unique to Blackberry. In fact, they demonstrate a startling lack of character, almost a willful desire to be mistaken for any other random operating system.

In a market this tight, where Apple and Google’s duopoly relegates players like RIM to merely vying for third place, this feels like a tremendous missed opportunity. Here was a chance for RIM to emphatically and visually declare how Blackberry 10 was clearly, dramatically different from its competition.

It’s true that, given time, what we see here, combined with what would need to be superb execution on the business side, could possibly become distinctive to RIM. But as Windows has shown, and as Palm notably showed, it’s entirely possible to establish a unique design language from the first.

Of course, that hasn’t done nearly as much as one would like to think for the former, and did almost nothing to save the latter. Design is not everything, I have to keep reminding myself.



  1. Agreed. Simply, boring and rudimentary. You would never hire a designer who did that, so really, why excuse the lack of vision, right?

    Also: interesting choice of last sentence: “Design is not everything…” I think in this case, we’re judging the design based on aesthetic — and in our current shape of the industry, design-driven companies are showing that design is less about aesthetic and more about user experience. This is where we’re shifting to. It means a definition of design where design, development and end-user experience are holistically combined and one and the same.

  2. Naz: you’re totally right, UX is the whole shebang and in this case I am just talking about the presentation layer. You could argue that these other platforms were missing a core component of the UX by not being attached to robust ecosystems, and that is what did them in despite their excellent presentation layers.

  3. I was really enamoured with Palm’s take. I thought it coulda been a contender.

    I think Metro has some nice touches, though I feel the rigidity of what I was told personally by someone at Microsoft of “swiss design, typography, grids” as their inspiration for Windows Phone, but sounded to me, too dogmatic. When pressed for more to understand it, the same “swiss/type/grids” was repeated. It sounded like rules rather than guidelines.

    Nokia’s MeeGo was interesting though sadly died on the vine.

    To your point, for sure, this is pretty bland. I’d actually venture out to say that it’s pretty horrible. Ironically, it looks like Windows from a few years ago. I think if you’re going to try to be serious in this game, then you should come out with excellence. It takes excellence to be a contender now. The stakes and the game have matured —аthe visual layer itself should be a given. And yet Blackberry failed here.

  4. Heres the tricky part: RIM (now blackberry) needs to keep its old customers and gain traction with new ones. Difficult to pull off.

    My uncle has a BB phone and he finds the icons on my iPhone to be too garish even though he agrees that a full touchscreen is good for screen estate. He will probably like this new yet familiar felling UI.

    Naz: I picked up a HP touchpad on the cheap last year for my mom. I feel a twinge for webOS whenever I use it. The fools at HP squandered a treasure.

  5. Hardik: It’s a good point; RIM does need to preserve its core customer base. That means corporate customers though, and they are already asking those customers to install and run new servers alongside their existing RIM servers. To me, if you’re going to ask for that you want to give as many reasons as possible why it’s necessary — a new, distinctive design language would help.

  6. Honestly, the type of individual who would buy a Blackberry is really not interested in style. That said, to survive Blackberry has reach out to a wider audience than that they had in the past.

  7. So none of you actually watched/read any of the new OS and items available on BB10? Yeah, I’m a crackhead, I’m not huge into apps, and yes, I was about ready to try a new brand of smartphone, but after watching the one in action, forget it! My next question is do I stick with the QZ10 (qwerty) or go for the touch screen? I’m work off of 3 different emails so I’m a heavy typer, keyboard is important to me, the new touch actually thinks ahead of what you trying to type and gives you the option of it completing the sentance for you. NOT to mention the camera. So many new and cool features. So basically, if you need a phone for actually business and life combined, Blackberry is giving you the option that makes sense. It’s not a toy. Oh and I think the coolest thing is the ability to run security for business AND keep your personal items on there separate. No more businesses interfering with your “safe” searching the web when you need to look for a bra shop in a strange town and work internet thinks its porn and blocks you. What? you guys never thought of that? Yeah, it happens.

  8. Carrie: I agree, the ability to segregate personal and work data struck me as really clever. I hope it works well for them; it’s definitely something I’d like to see Apple and Google emulate.

  9. The reason I have steadfast hold on to my outdated blackberry is the keyboard. I will wait until May when they come out with a new model with keyboard. If that is a dud I will finally switch to an iPhone. I hope my patience will pay off though because I really want to have a keyboard.

  10. “I’d actually venture out to say that it’s pretty horrible.”

    Can’t you stay inside and say it?

    Where are these arbitrary prepositional appendages coming from? Next we’ll hear about singing up a song, hesitating out and about to say, and strolling up and down memory lane.

  11. Well you probably know about that such stuff more than I do. But I am fairly certain that if they had an all new UI then some tech blogs would brand that as being too snazzy. 😀

    At the end of the day its about performance and from the tech reviews at arstechnica and the verge it looks like everyone loves the new keyboard, the battery life is a tad flaky and the general consensus seems to be that 2 years back this phone would have been a winner, today its a good deal for those who like RIM.

  12. The Gradient boxes every icon is wrapped into seem superfluos to me. Feels clumsy. I’d say the visual appearance Looks like a cheap OS for the emerging markets or the like. So i agreee with you.

    By the Way Khoi – when are you going to make your blog responsive?

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.