RIM CEO: BlackBerry 6 is a 'next-gen platform'

Mike Lazaridis talks multitasking and a new UI

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Not surprisingly, the president and co-CEO of RIM loves his BlackBerry.

Mike Lazaridis is using the new Pearl 3G and when he spots that it's barely larger than the digital recorder we're using for the interview he balances it on the table and records the meeting himself as a video.

"It's so small! On top of everything else it does, the Pearl has this incredible... not just the auto focus, but this automatic gain control on it that rivals these digital recorders. What's cool about it is you can store it all to SD card or you can email it to yourself…"

Lazaridis is equally excited about where BlackBerry 6 is going, which he calls a "very natural" transition to "a next generation platform" – but also admits is a long-needed spring clean.

"These are really capable consumer devices, but really the last frontier for us was to go back and overhaul a UI that goes back more than a decade from its early inception to its guiding principles to its constant evolution and development.

"All the features people have been asking us to put in over the last decade had made the menu structure get bigger and bigger and bigger and the first thing we had to do was go in and clean that up."

BlackBerry multitasking

The user research involved in testing that revealed a surprising thing. BlackBerry has had multitasking for years but Lazaridis says "people thought didn't it multitask because it was so seamlessly integrated between apps. The menus are all contextual.

"You can copy and paste, you can identify addresses, phone numbers, pin numbers, websites - it doesn't matter what context you're in, what third-party app you're using, if you're in the calendar or in the inbox it all works seamlessly. So people thought it was one massive monolithic thing. We realised that people really like the way this thing multitasks - but they are not aware it multitasks!"

BlackBerry 6 won't make it more obvious, either; "We didn't want to lose that. In an effort to meet the marketing spin on multitasking we would have had to go backwards and make multitasking more obvious, which would have defeated the whole point of why they love BlackBerry."

The graphic design and aesthetics of BlackBerry 6 changed dramatically from the earliest designs: "What we thought was going to work, what we thought we would try and where we ended up were completely different."

Lazaridis admits to having had concerns during the process but he thinks "when you see it all together, actually, this looks really, really good, but you can still tell it's a BlackBerry - it didn't lose its identity in the process."

Improvements in BlackBerry 6

Beyond what he calls "all the pizzazz and the fun stuff" of the new-look interface (like a two-finger gesture for using zoom and the animations and transitions, which will still work when you upgrade existing handsets to BlackBerry 6), there are solid improvements in BlackBerry 6, like the new WebKit browser, and HTML email based on that.

As well as the vertical swipe from the Storm, there's a horizontal gesture that's he thinks is especially useful because of the way you can use the BlackBerry inbox to work with so many different apps, from replying to Twitter direct messages to seeing alerts on your credit card.

"You don't have to go out and find all the other apps and open them up and see where all these notifications are occurring. That's the current model of multitasking [on other platforms]; there are all these other apps and you have to walk through them and figure out what's current, kind of a like a PC.

"On a BlackBerry we've got the one inbox, our core system, and that can have all these apps dropping in notifications that go away after you use them. The notification is just really a pointer; it's like a hyperlink into the app… so you get a Facebook notification and you respond, you exit out - and it drops you back into the inbox and that notification is gone, you don't have to worry about clutter."

The side swipe is a way of getting to information that doesn't come to your inbox. "You want to take a look at your calendar- wouldn't it just be nice to push stuff over and take a sneak peek at your calendar and then put it back? The idea of being able to move between your favourites and your bookmarks and your apps just by going left and right - it's pretty powerful."