BlackBerry, struggling to regain its stability, is out with an upgrade to OS 10. The upgrade offers hundreds of enhancements, including message filtering, simplified phone calling, and other new features that could boost its appeal in the critical governmental and business markets.
In the new version 10.2.1, users can now immediately filter the message list in the Hub so that it displays only Unread Messages, Flagged Messages, Draft Messages, Meeting Invites, Sent Messages or Level 1 alerts. A pinch gesture can activate the filter criteria.
A new incoming call screen allows a user to answer or ignore a call by swiping -- to the left for answering, to the right for ignoring. New icons control the ability to silence a call or reply through BlackBerry Messenger, SMS or e-mail, and groups can now be created for SMS and e-mail.
Some 'Cool Stuff'
Messages that appear on the lock screen can now be tapped to open, and the phone is unlockable through a picture-plus-number combination.
Other new features include a customizable Quick Settings Menu, the ability to save a Web page for later offline reading, a new battery monitor, automatic software updates, and FM radio. For the enterprise, there are also now additional security features with finer levels of control for regulated industries.
Ramon Llamas, an analyst with industry research firm IDC, told us the upgrades don't quite "move the needle" for BlackBerry, but they do offer some "cool stuff," including the Hub notifications and the gestural controls for calling. He noted that the enhancements will help BlackBerry owners "make sense of the deluge of messages" they often encounter.
'Same Lack of Apps'
But, he pointed out, "it's still the same device, same OS -- and same lack of applications ." Llamas noted that the added features will help "users be more productive" in the governmental and enterprise markets being emphasized by John Chen, the new BlackBerry CEO.
BlackBerry has attempted to address the lack of apps by including a virtual machine in OS 10 that allows Android apps to run on BlackBerry devices. The VM, originally clunky, reportedly has been greatly improved with version 10.2.1, allowing Android apps to call native Linux binary libraries directly rather than ported versions running on QNX, the base platform for BlackBerry OS. Some reviewers have said version 10.2.1 runs Android apps so well they are "typically indistinguishable" from native BlackBerry apps. BlackBerry has also included Snap, an app to give direct access to Google's Play store for Android apps.
In other BlackBerry news, a Taiwanese publication called Focus Taiwan has reported that the first Foxconn-made BlackBerry phones will be unveiled at the Mobile World Congress at the end of next month. BlackBerry said last month that it was moving manufacturing of at least some of its phones to the Chinese manufacturer, as a way to reduce manufacturing overhead and inventory maintenance. The Foxconn-built devices, part of a five-year deal between the two companies, are expected to be budget phones, use BlackBerry 10, and be released initially in developing markets like Indonesia.
Additionally, BlackBerry suffered a news retraction recently, when the U.S. Department of Defense clarified that it had not ordered 80,000 new smartphones from the company. Apparently, the misinformation was based on a DoD press release earlier this month that described a new mobile network capable of supporting 80,000 BlackBerry phones, as well as iPhones, iPads and Android devices. The information , as it turns out, was referring to existing BlackBerry devices at Defense, not new ones.