BlackBerry 10: Maps & Hub

I spent the day poking around two of the centerpiece apps of the BlackBerry 10 system – Maps and Hub. Before I toss off some first impressions, thought, I have to mention the rather curious timing. BlackBerry 10 has its official launch tomorrow. One day before that launch two of the most important system apps are finally seeded to the SDK to – and i am quoting directly from RIM – “help developers test their end-to-end integration with core BlackBerry 10 applications.”

Um – hello? One day before the launch you are putting crucial integration tools – including Hub, which you are positioning as one of the key features of the entire system – into the hands of developers for the first time? Either the folks at RIM still don’t understand or care about the importance of developers or BB10 development is still way behind schedule and they are scrambling to catch up. Neither option bodes well for the launch.

Anyway. On with the apps. There isn’t much to say about the Maps app in use except that it seems competent (see below) and fares well against the obvious competitor of Apple’s iOS Maps. This is not a surprise, since both apps are using the same dataset from TomTom. This is a good thing, since – unlike the Google mapping package – TomTom isn’t using your location data to sell you to advertisers. Full kudos to RIM for taking the option that shows some level of regard for your users and their basic rights to privacy and respect.

I say “seems” competent because with any mapping application and dataset, you have no way of judging the quality of the results until users have had it in their hands and in actual use for a few months. Maps get better with use – the addition, correction factor, and filtering via end user experience is crucial to the mapping experience. RIM has an advantage here because iOS users have pounding usage data back into the TomTom set for 6 months now, giving users of both platforms an increasingly sophisticated and accurate data set to work from. I assume that at this time next year, any head-to-head comparison of the two mapping apps will be a wash.

The BlackBerry Hub, on the other paw, vexes me. What they have done is taken the dashboard that is layered into the OS in Android and iOS and make it an app. I don’t understand this at all. Having to pop in and out of an app to see information that should just be available at any point in the user experience is frustrating – especially since the lack of a home button on the BB10 hardware means that getting in and out of apps is a total kludge of swipe up, swipe this way, swipe that way, where the hell am I, swipe again, swipe, swipe, argh, what the fuck, goddamn it, why isn’t there just a button? It takes a useful and some would say crucial palette of data and makes it a chore to use.

Will some people like the Hub? Yes, of course. But I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of people just won’t bother with it, either because it is inconvenient to use or because the apps that they use never get around to talking to it. With even big players like LinkedIN not having any chance to develop for it until 24 hours before the official launch there is a danger of a lot of developers passing it over entirely.

Maps? Thumbs up. Hub? Thumbs down. Timing? Thumbs way down.

One step forward …

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