RIM may finally be ready to begin showing BlackBerry 10 to users, but right now the company has another priority: getting developers on board with the new platform. To that end, it's giving every developer at the BlackBerry Jam conference here in Orlando a phone, the "BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha developer testing device."
That mouthful of a name is actually descriptive of what this device is and what it is not. It's not a prototype, it's not a phone that will ever be released, and RIM wants to make very clear that it's not necessarily indicative of what future BB10 phones will be. What it *is* is a device that developers can use to create BB10 apps that look and feel native to the new BB10 platform using RIM's new Cascades framework.
The Dev Alpha is in almost every regard a shrunken-down BlackBerry PlayBook. It has the same industrial design, the same hardware buttons, and a similar screen resolution: 1280 x 768 (the PlayBook is slightly lower at 1024 x 600). The only differences? It's smaller, of course, with a 4.2-inch screen. RIM also built NFC into the device for developers who may want to test apps using that. Finally, there's a Micro USB port for charging, a Micro HDMI port, and a Micro-SIM card tray paired with a quad-band HSPA radio, something RIM has yet to release on a PlayBook.
It's certainly not an indication of how BB10 phones will be built
The hardware does actually feel relatively solid and nice in the hand, it's narrower than many of the larger Android phones that are out there and the squarish build gives it an overall heft that's actually fairly satisfying. It's certainly not an indication of how BB10 phones will be built, but is a reminder than even on a "developer testing device," RIM is able to punch out respectable hardware.
As far as the OS goes, this is almost entirely the PlayBook OS, *not* BlackBerry 10. Although RIM says that it has built-in some of the hooks and calls that will be part of BB10. The idea is for developers to begin building their apps now and test them on phone hardware so they're ready when RIM releases actual hardware. To that end, RIM is only including the apps that enable developers to do that: the core PlayBook settings and setup, the browser, and access to the camera. (Amusingly, there isn't even a photo gallery app, meaning photos taken with the camera app are actually impossible to see on-device unless you're a developer.)
Later, RIM will begin adding elements from BB10 to these developer devices, but for now it's difficult to divine anything about what BB10 will look like from what's here. Difficult, but not impossible.
RIM has been very clear that developers need to see what their apps look like on a smaller screen, and the fact that this has a similar resolution to the PlayBook leads us to believe that the first BB10 phones will have 1280 x 768 screens. We also wouldn't be surprised to see on-board memory instead of microSD cards, NFC, and — importantly — no physical keyboard.
BB10 is being architected so that it can work as a touchscreen-only deviceWe expect that RIM will never give up on physical keyboards entirely, but in our conversations RIM was very clear that it was focused on making an all-touch device work as a BlackBerry device, especially when it comes to typing and one-handed navigation. RIM could throw a curveball and release a device with a physical keyboard at the launch of the OS, but make no mistake: BB10 is being architected so that it can work as a touchscreen-only device.
Beyond that, as of this writing the full extent of BlackBerry 10 and the devices that will run it are still a mystery. With any luck (and assuming RIM knows how to properly pump up demand for the new OS), CEO Thorsten Heins will unveil more during the BlackBerry World keynote. We'll keep you apprised of everything that we learn.