Project Bold: Rethinking BlackBerry's Place in our World
I originally created and published this concept in December on my site, Turtle Pie. The original post can be found here: http://www.turtlepie.net/post/2013/12/project-bold.
I realize that many of you here will probably disagree with a lot of the decisions I made, most noticeably the physical keyboard. What is this, 2004? Whatever. I tried to create a product and vision that I thought was true to BlackBerry's culture. I've been an iOS user since 2007, and have dabbled around in Android several times in the past year. This post is about trying to make a better BlackBerry, a better company, a better product.
So, here goes:
BlackBerry has been around for a little while now. The company helped jumpstart the mobile communications revolution with its first email pager released in 1999. It transitioned into the smartphone game that it and Palm had practically dreamed up in 2003.
But just four years later, Apple entered the smartphone space and changed it quite drastically. Most of us know how this story goes from here, so I'm not going to bore you with it. In short, BlackBerry struggled to produce a credible answer to the iPhone for a good six years. Finally in 2013, BlackBerry began its fresh start with its new, modern operating system: BlackBerry 10.
I'm not a fan of BlackBerry 10, but I am—somehow through all of this—still a fan of BlackBerry. I think that BlackBerry's vision as of recent years has become clouded with uncertainty, thoughts of competition, Alicia Keys, and its past commercial successes. BlackBerry has become so bruised and banged up since the iPhone that it has forgotten why it even exists in the first place.
Let's take a look at some examples of BlackBerry's most recent phone design and marketing materials. This is what BlackBerry is currently selling:
I spent Saturday and Sunday completely rethinking BlackBerry's place in our world. I took a good look at the company's entire lineup of products, and I mocked up one premium phone to replace them all.
I've also been watching BlackBerry 10 over the past year and I've been able to see what I like and don't like about it. Unfortunately, there is more that I don't like than what I do, so I had to rethink that, as well.
I looked at the entire BlackBerry brand as I know it, and I tore it all apart. Everything you're about to see from this point on is my own vision for the future of BlackBerry, and isn't intended to reflect any of the company's actual business plans.
Without any further hesitation, this is what I've been working on for the past two days:
When I started thinking about what I would change if I were in charge of BlackBerry, I naturally went and looked at the company's products. What I saw really bothered me. There are 16 phones! And only 4 of which are running BlackBerry 10, not to mention a ridiculous number of other products, some of which I've never even heard of.
There is a tablet on Blackberry's website, the PlayBook, which looks like it's for sale but it hasn't been updated in forever (I think). There is so much stuff on the BlackBerry homepage that you can practically see the confused faces of thousands of would-be customers. I mean, there is a tab on the site called 'Apps & Media' that is right next to a completely separate tab called 'Software'. What!?
I decided to start completely fresh, with just three mainstream products. Everything is built around Bold OS, my imaginary replacement for BlackBerry 10. It still has QNX at its foundation, but the UI and personality of the operating system has been completely redesigned.
Corporate is a new name for BlackBerry's enterprise solution. I didn't spend too much time with this because I don't feel like I know enough about how it works to have any valuable input on how I would change it.
Bottle is the new BlackBerry Messenger. I feel like BlackBerry Messenger has garnered a rather poor reputation since BlackBerry's decline, especially after the company's lazy excuse for cross-platform versions of the service rolled into our lives earlier this year. Bottle is a messenger that is truly forward-thinking, just like the original BlackBerry Messenger was for its time. It is an open-source, cross-platform communications tool for the modern smartphone age. It's fast, secure, and available for everyone.
Bold is my replacement for all 16 (!!!) of BlackBerry's phones. The name Bold comes from the BlackBerry Bold, an older BlackBerry device which I still consider to be the company's greatest yet. Demoting the BlackBerry name to just the company name shows maturity, and helps provide a truly clean slate. Also, Bold is just a beautiful name.
Who uses BlackBerry phones? More importantly, why do they use them?
'Be bold' is a simple yet powerful campaign for BlackBerry. It's more than just an empty marketing effort, it's a voice for the company, and I think it really speaks to why these phones are being made. It's a tribute to the company's idea of its core customers: unique, connected, and bold individuals.
Every company needs a voice, or a reason for being. BlackBerry makes phones for individuals. They're classy, high-end yet accessible, and built for you. Bold.
I believe that BlackBerry should focus on making the best phones it possibly can. If that means making the phones a little more expensive, say even $300 on-contract, then I'd be happy to pay the premium for a better product.
This is what I mocked up to replace BlackBerry's current lineup of phones. It's designed to be simple and true to its (intended) materials. There is no silver-painted plastic to be found on this phone. The entire front and back are made of glass, and the sides of stainless steel. There is only one navigation button, a touchscreen, and a physical keyboard.
You're either from one of two camps: you think that any phone with a physical keyboard in 2013 is doomed, or you really miss the keyboard on your old BlackBerry.
I decided that BlackBerry has spent way too much time trying to please everybody. There are clear advantages to physical keyboards on smartphones. Some are obvious, like the tactility of the keys. Some are more of an edge case, like being able to trigger actions and searches simply by typing.
Whether you like it or not, BlackBerry is known for its keyboards. There are plenty of excellent touchscreen-only slab phones on the market, but BlackBerry is different. I think customers would appreciate that.
Bold OS is designed to be the most simple and easy to use modern smartphone operating system. Gone are some of the more undiscoverable gestures that were present in BlackBerry 10.
Gestures like Peek are still there, but the addition of a capacitive BlackBerry button adds clarity, and helps make necessary actions like getting back to your home screen immediately noticeable.
You only need to remember two main gestures: press the BlackBerry button to return to your home screen from wherever you are, and swipe up from it to reveal an application's options. Easy.
This is a great example of why the Bold has a physical keyboard. From the home screen, just start typing to search your entire phone. There is no need to clutter the UI with search boxes and dialogs, because the keyboard carries that weight instead. And it's more natural that way. You don't have to think about how you're supposed to do something, you just do.
Swiping up from the BlackBerry button reveals app-specific options. In this case, we're in the browser, and swiping up has revealed options to go back to the previous webpage, search the current one, bookmark it, or share it. I used a butterfly for the share icon because it's adorable. Your content just flies away! ...I can see it now.
The calendar UI in Bold OS focuses on making event creation easier than ever before on a phone. Have you ever counted the number of steps it takes to create a new event in the iOS 7 calendar app? Neither have I, and I don't want to.
With Bold OS, creating a new event is easier than ever. Just type.
Bold parses the text and puts everything in its right place so you don't have to. It also looks up contextual information like weather, contact phone numbers, and documents to attach to your event. In this case, Bob Anderson's contact information would be automatically attached to the event, as well as the expense reports mentioned.
One thing that I absolutely love about the Moto X is its Active Display feature. If you've never seen it, it basically lights up only part of the screen when the phone is locked, showing the time and incoming notifications. I wanted to recreate this on the Bold, because it's a feature that I think every phone should have.
Home screens are a touchy subject lately. Some people think a grid of app icons is enough, while others think that full-fledged widgets and mini-apps are the future.
Bold OS sits in a comfortable middle ground. When you close an app, it minimizes, and becomes a widget on your home screen. These widgets can display useful information, or actionable buttons like music playback controls, but they're never overkill. They never get in the way. You can get rid of a widget simply by swiping it off the screen, and you can reenter an app at any time but tapping on it.
Your Bold knows you. It learns how and where you use your phone and automatically creates profiles based on context. You don't have to spend any time thinking about any special workflows, your phone does that for you, so you can get back to work.
I've always loved the idea of a UI blending into the device around it. Bold OS uses shades of black that match that of the device's bezel. As a result, your content—not the computer—shines through.
Messages pop up out of nowhere as if they are suddenly a part of the physical build of the phone. It's the kind of thing that you'll notice on some level or another, simply through experiencing it. It makes the phone and the OS feel like one thing. Exactly the way it should be.
BlackBerry is a brand that stands for something special, but it has spent the past seven years attempting to conform to whatever else the industry seems to be doing. In other words, playing catch up.
This has greatly hurt its once forward-thinking vision for the future of mobile communication, but it hasn't silenced it. There is still a chance for Blackberry to get its voice back, but it's going to mean making some risky moves.
This is Blackberry's current lineup of products, as shown on its website:
A new vision for BlackBerry means simpler, easier, and bolder products. It means a newfound sense of confidence. This is what I think BlackBerry's website should look like:
Three focused and concise products: Bold, Bottle, and Corporate, all built with Bold OS at the core. There is only one phone for sale, because there can only be one best phone. BlackBerry should only be making the best.
A new vision for BlackBerry means not being afraid to be bold. It means taking risks, like tearing apart the entire lineup of products and starting from the ground up to build something that is not only better than what was there before, but something that stays true to the company's vision.
I know that this entire post has just been an example of my imagination running wild, but I would really appreciate seeing something like this from BlackBerry.
BlackBerry's vision is one that millions of people once agreed with on a truly emotional and meaningful level. It's time to take that vision to the next level. It's time to be bold.
Your turn, BlackBerry.