At the BlackBerry Passport launch event earlier today, the company also shared some information regarding its upcoming BlackBerry 10.3 update and its rollout plans. It also shed more light on the elusive BlackBerry Classic smartphone that the company has been hinting about for months.
The BlackBerry 10.3 update is the company’s biggest update to the BlackBerry 10 platform to date, adding plenty of new features to a platform that has seen a steady decline in user base. It may be seen as the company catching up, but the 10.3 update is a welcome addition for current BlackBerry users with plenty of new features and tweaks.
The biggest addition on the 10.3 update is, of course, BlackBerry Assistant, the company’s version of Siri, Google Now and Cortana. Just like the other virtual assistants, BlackBerry Assistant takes voice and text input, and promises contextual awareness: if you ask “will I need to bring a jacket today?”, BlackBerry Assistant will tell you today’s weather. The software also acts as a universal search tool for everything in your smartphone. One neat feature here is that you can invoke BlackBerry Assistant not just by long-pressing the Mute button, but also by just typing something out on the home screen.
In addition, BlackBerry 10.3 will also see the Amazon Appstore pre-installed, bringing 300,000 Android apps onto the app-starved platform. Given BB10’s capability of running Android apps, this move will see BlackBerry users finally gaining access to a plethora of apps, though it must be noted some apps are not available on the Appstore. But, the Amazon Appstore also has a Free App of the Day which will extend to BlackBerry users as well. On the other hand, it also means that BlackBerry 10.3 will have two app stores, where the BlackBerry World will now see more native apps that are focused on productivity.
There’s a host of other changes too, including support for more gestures and tweaks to the BlackBerry hub. You can already find reviews online, with N4BB’s review particularly extensive.
Currently, only the BlackBerry Passport and BlackBerry Porsche Design P9983 are running BlackBerry 10.3 out of the box. The company will be rolling out the 10.3 update to all BlackBerry 10 devices by the end of this year, which means even older smartphones like the Z10 will see a new lease of life. BlackBerry reiterates that even lower-end devices like the Z3 and Q5 will be getting the update just like the Z30, Q10 and the aforementioned Z10.
By the end of this year, too, BlackBerry will finally make the long-awaited BlackBerry Classic available. A throwback to BlackBerry devices of old, the BB Classic will feature the iconic trackpad and the “Menu”, “Back”, “Send” and “End” buttons from the Bold series that was so popular during BlackBerry’s golden years. It will also pack a 3.5-inch screen on top of the physical QWERTY keyboard, and will run BlackBerry 10.3 out of the box. But, beyond the promise of a large battery and a body that’s made from premium materials, not much has been revealed officially regarding the Classic’s hardware.
In any case, it is a busy period for BlackBerry, and one that will ultimately shape the company’s long-term future. Having steadied the ship since entering the company late last year, CEO John Chen has worked wonders to the financial state of BlackBerry, taking it from being $1.1 billion in the red at its lowest point to current debts of just $255 million, while overseeing a massive internal restructure. The company expects to be cashflow-neutral by the end of this year – which if it really happens, marks an amazing turnaround for a company that was peering at the depths of bankruptcy almost exactly a year ago.