BlackBerry chief executive Thorsten Heins is pulling no punches as he mounts a campaign to get BlackBerrys back in the hands and minds of consumers. In a somewhat surprising move, he’s called out the iPhone for lagging behind the curve in a Monday interview with the Australian Financial Review.
Heins, with deference to Apple’s legacy as a “design icon,” said the way the iPhone’s menus are laid out aren’t designed to make it easy for users to run multiple programs at once in the way that modern smartphone power users need.
That, of course, is supposed to be an endorsement of BlackBerry’s own operating system, BlackBerry 10, which the company has designed to run multiple applications at once. The company has, in the past, criticized the “in-and-out” design of Apple’s operating system, referencing the way users have to close completely out of one program to work in another.
Apple has heard some criticism for parts of its software design, particularly its tendency to replicate real-world objects in its products — take, for example, the leather stitching on the Calendar app or the reel-to-reel design of its Podcasts app. After an executive shake-up in October, the company charged its lead designer, Jony Ive, with leading Apple’s “human interface” decisions. Many expect that trend will fade in future versions of the iOS and that Ive may infuse Apple’s software with some of the minimalism that already defines the design of its gadgets.
But Heins’s criticism goes deeper than that, by going after the grid of apps that make up the heart of Apple’s operating system.
BlackBerry is hoping that features such as its approach to multitasking will differentiate its phones enough to appeal to highly productive smartphone power-users. BB 10 is designed to make users return to their home screen of apps as infrequently as possible, essentially asking smartphone users to rethink the way they use their phones. The Z10, the company’s all-touch smartphone coming to AT&T on Friday and Verizon on March 28, doesn’t even have a home button.
The Canadian firm, of course, knows a bit about falling behind the innovation curve of the rest of the market, since it saw its own phones sales suffer when it failed to jump fully on to the smartphone market by offering the sorts of rich multimedia capabilities, strong Web browsing and a deep app portfolio available on competing smartphones like the iPhone.
BlackBerry has moved to fix a lot of those problems with its new phones and operating system, and the company is hoping it can rely on its faithful customers to upgrade to and evangelize the company’s new products. Heins has said that BlackBerry is aiming to take a solid third place in the smartphone operating system market, behind Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Given the two systems’ hold on smartphone users — together, they make up 91 percent of the market — BlackBerry will have to put in some work to get converts as well as new smartphone adopters.
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