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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.

One of the most influential principles was what the designers term "cinematic experience." Lindsay says that some outsiders think this refers only to the phone's ability to play high-definition video and its HDMI port.

"But for us it translates into 'a large screen, entirely filled by the [user] experience,'" he says. "We're giving application developers control over every pixel on the screen, not reserving some of them for things like [showing] battery life or signal strength or a virtual home button. It creates a more immersive user experience. And it also gives more room to a sweeping panorama and gestures. It was this that led us to consider using gestures instead of buttons."

One result: simple, sensuous and unfailingly consistent gestures for navigating the phone and improving the experience of working with it. "We called it 'stroking not poking,'" Lindsay says. Working through the implications of this eventually led designers to BlackBerry Peek, pressing on a screen and sliding it to the side to see something else "underneath" it, such as battery life or other system indicators. Eventually, Lindsay says, the designers realized they could use the gesture to peek into more and more areas, such as the Hub and then into email and text messages, without abandoning the initial or "top" app.

Lindsay says he's read a few reviews of the Z10 and BB10, by reviewers he respects. "The general sentiment, I think, is that they think it is innovative and [that] we have a clear value proposition," he says. "We are attempting to innovate. And with innovation comes new challenges, especially in how to train and educate customers to use the new UI."

To do that, the Z10 comes with a simple fold-out pamphlet that illustrates the gestures, and the phone itself offers a quick tutorial that new users can't avoid.

"The common sentiment [among reviewers] is that there is a very short learning period at the beginning," Lindsay says. "But the reward of having learned that is [that] it becomes very intuitive and very natural."

Lindsay would only talk generally about the design team's current priorities. But he started by emphasizing that "BB10 is a mobile computing platform."

"The Z10 and Q10 are just the first two devices," he says. "The challenge is, can we define a platform experience that scales across a wide array of possible device implementations? How do we define a platform that scales appropriately for that? Can we ensure the platform 'holds together' as we move from one device to another?"

 

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