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BlackBerry Ltd (BBRY): Blackberry Closes The App Gap

 November 18, 2013 10:38 AM

The rumors turned out to be mostly true.

I now have 10.2.1 on my Z-10 and have been running it for a few days.  The changes are very material, among them:

  • Virtually all "APK" files can now be loaded directly and will run.  If you have them on your SD card, or on a network share (e.g. through BlackBerry Link) or similar you simply tap them and the phone will ask you if you wish to install it.  This is very much like what you can do with most Android devices, if you enable it.  This is a major change from before where you had to take an APK file and run it through a process to turn it into a BAR file, including "signing" that BAR file, then load that via a PC-based tool.  This also means that third-party (non-Google) app stores, including Amazon's and those such as 1mobile, work.  It does not, at present, include the Google "Play Store" however.
  • Most of the complaints people have had about contacts and notifications have been addressed.  Specifically, you can now have different ringtones per-contact and thing (e.g. text message, etc) where prior you needed to load a third-party app for that.
  • The quick settings menu can now be customized and is very versatile.  Pretty-much anything you might want available is -- including a flashlight that remains on if you shut off the screen or it times out.  Yes, that's a trivial matter but one that is bound to piss off the 530 flashlight app developers.  Heh, right up front where you can instantly get it wins folks, sorry.  It's a little thing but little things count.
  • Android app performance and compatibility has been massively improved.  It was good before.  It's essentially indistinguishable from native now for most apps.  In addition things like the USPS and UPS apps, all the banking and related apps I've tried and others all work where before anything that had an interface to mapping functions would not.  
  • The Hub now has a "pinch" function that can be set to do any one of a number of things, and in addition account order can be changed.  Both are extremely nice improvements and welcome; in particular if you have a lot of accounts this makes it trivial to see everything "new" with one quick gesture.  This particular feature, which was one of the best in the phone to begin with, just gets better.
  • There is now a "picture password" function.  For those who want it you've got it; I personally don't care for it but this one is up to you.  It works by you choosing a number and a place on a picture of your choosing to drop it; when challenged you replicate that to unlock the phone.  Choices are good.
  • The built-in device monitor now shows you virtually everything about what is going on with the phone, should you want to look.  The enhancements here are significant and welcome; in addition to the expected CPU and memory consumption plus the ability to kill errant tasks the phone also keeps track of data consumed per application and further splits that into WiFi and Mobile (cellular.)  That's very nice and is presented in both graphical and numeric form.  I like it a lot, and if something is misbehaving (e.g. sucking down your battery) you can now determine exactly what it is at a glance without having to guess.  Given that app developers are sometimes less than skilled in managing device resources in a decent matter this is extremely useful.

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There are also fairly-significant updates in the social applications (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) among a bunch other, less-significant changes.

All-in this update is one that now makes the BB10 device a near fully-capable Android handset plus one that runs all the BB10 apps, and it has the additional security and ease-of-use that were originally present.  Among the distinguishing features I've pointed out before are the relative ease of running your own secure cloud storage for calendars and contacts (via Radicale) which works perfectly and on an encrypted-transport basis, full support for Exchange and IMAP along with the "usual suspects" for email and similar.

This is now a unique combination in the marketplace.  You no longer have to choose between the BB10 security and ease-of-use and Android applications as you can have both.  Nobody else offers this combination -- or anything even marginally approaching it.

I suspect that what the APK direct-load capability is going to bring to BlackBerry is a renewed push to get Android app developers to submit into their app store.  I'd still like to see Google Play supported but it's no longer necessary.  If the company opens up direct submission of APKs to their app store then the additional overhead for an app developer to support BB10 is now zero for any "free" app or one that is authenticated against their own infrastructure rather than Google's.

That's most of the app world folks and it's a huge move.  In addition for those who refuse to submit their apps (the free ones anyway) you now can load them yourself either directly or via one of the many third-party app loaders such as 1mobile or Amazon.

The application gap has been for essentially all purposes closed.  This is arguably the most-consequential event in the evolution of the BB10 device since its initial launch as it now brings them not just to parity with Android handsets but both includes and surpasses their capability.

What remains is what I've pointed out to the company now for months and I believe they ought to address.  Some of these can be done immediately and some will take some effort. The full list is here and the company damn well ought to implement what's left -- they took a big step forward on the Android side, they addressed many of the little things that people disliked, and now they have the opportunity to really ram the advantage home with a device that does everything an Android phone does -- literally -- and more.



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