Ran into a senior executive of Blackberry last night at the World Economic Forum in Davos and got a demonstration of the Blackberry 10.
Before I tell you about what I saw, a few caveats: I know little about RIMM's valuation or Apple's. I'm not a recommending a stock here. And, while I have been using a handheld for something like a decade, I'm no technology expert. (I think of myself as an advanced amateur.) But I have stuck with Blackberry and probably have to admit that I want the device to succeed. At the same time, I am a happy and committed iPad user, though I use it with a Bluetooth keyboard. Finally, the demonstration was brief, maybe 10 minutes. All I saw was the keypad and the browser. The device is the one with the virtual keypad, about as big as my son's Android phone. I'm told a model with a real keyboard will be introduced next.
That said, what I saw was impressive and fast. What I care about, as a reporter on the road a lot, is the keypad. I have tried and never cottoned to the iPhone keyboard. I often need to write lengthy stories on my handheld and that has kept me away from handhelds with virtual keyboards and, despite being made fun of repeatedly, kept me a loyal Blackberry user.
Here's what I saw: the executive placed his finger on a letter and swiped upward and nearly every time it chose a correct word from the typing of the first initial letter. These were simple words like "the" "but" and "have" as if there is some macro programming that automatically suggests the most simple and common words from the first letter. As he typed more complicated words, suggested words came up above the letter on the keypad, not in the text. These words were often correct. I was told this is because when people type they look at the keypad, not in the note. He said the device is able to suggest the right word because it learns personal writing style and scans previous messages for frequently used words.
When the right word was suggested by the device, a quick upward swipe inserted the word into the text. He also said the grammar was pretty good and showed me how it chose and inserted an apostrophe into "Ill" at the beginning of a sentence, but did not after the words "I feel ... ill."
It was all very fast and when my turn came to type, I pretty quickly was able to type several sentences without looking at the text. My overall feeling is this was the first virtual keypad that I could embrace. (I'm a fast, touch typist.) A downward swipe quickly switches the keypad to numbers and then to symbols.
Onto the browser. The executive went to what he said is an industry standard web site that it used to test browser speed. He said he was testing it live in an indoor location and had no idea what the results would be. I don't remember the URL. I have to take him at his word that this was indeed an industry standard site. He ran the test and the number came up at 486. He then showed me other desktop - not handheld - browser speeds that were all well below that number, including Safari and Chrome. He then showed me speeds of other handheld browsers and I remember some were below 400. (I have no idea what units were being measured.)
And that was it. Circumstance and the hustle and bustle of the location where this took place precluded any further demonstrations. I have no idea if the machine crashes when the calendar is opened. (I have no expectation that it does.) What I know is I saw him do a live demo of a pretty impressive keyboard and used it myself and was functional within minutes. While I began our conversation insisting that I had to have a unit with the physical keyboard, I ended thinking I'd be quite happy with the virtual one.
So take that for what it's worth from a guy whose job is covering the economy, not technology, and has enough trouble with that.