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How BlackBerry recreated the mobile user experience with Z10

John Cox | Feb. 18, 2013
With the release of the BlackBerry Z10 smartphone, the company once known as Research in Motion has staked its future on an ambitious bet: that it could craft a new "mobile user experience" that would, by itself, prove a strong attraction for buyers.

In a December 2012 story in The Wall Street Journal, Lindsay was quoted as saying that TAT has "been the single largest contributor to the design of the experience" for the BlackBerry 10 operating system. "They are driving all of this."

But Lindsay credits RIM co-founder and longtime co-CEO Mihalis "Mike" Lazaridis with the initial vision displayed when he recruited Lindsay. "He recognized that [post-iPhone] there were expectations about how a consumer device should look like and behave," Lindsay says. Lazaridis has already brought in another relative newcomer, Senior Vice President Todd Wood, to reset the company's industrial design discipline for hardware.

"[Lazaridis] wanted us to bring all this to bear at RIM," says Lindsay. "He saw this was not an area of strength for the company. His idea was to 'help us understand and create an experience that appeals to a larger audience. And help us bring it to market.'"

Lindsay began doing so first with the legacy BlackBerry OS, versions 6 and 7. "We made good advances, but the older Blackberry platform put a lot of constraints on what we could actually change," he says. "It was only with BlackBerry 10 that we fully envisioned what BlackBerry needed to have to achieve that wider appeal."

That process was guided by a number of basic principles and "core beliefs."

One was "be true to BlackBerry," Lindsay says. That is, be true to what was dubbed the "BlackBerry DNA." "There was the real, recognized brand value of BlackBerry: productivity, efficiency, empowering the user," Lindsay says. "We had slogan: 'a tool, not a toy.' It was about providing an experience that would help users be productive, capture their ideas, express themselves, and engage with their communities. This was not new for BlackBerry."

But the design group saw this "DNA" as an opportunity because rival platforms were, Lindsay says, "consumption and entertainment focused." "We wanted a broad base of the market to be contributors, not just consumers," he says.

Another principle was purposeful design. "One-handed use [of the smartphone] is one example," Lindsay says. "If you have a mobile handset operated with one hand [specifically one thumb], then that influences decisions like the size of the targets on the touch screen, the position of elements, and so on."

But the designers carried this farther, by realizing that they could combine one-handed and two-handed operations. "It can be very useable with one hand but more useable with two, using two thumbs," Lindsay says. For example, using both while you're triaging email in your inbox. You can touch a message with one thumb, see the contextual [task] menu come up, and hit the 'delete' key [or 'reply'] with your other thumb. You can develop a rhythm of interaction."

 

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