As a longtime BlackBerry® smartphone user, the new BlackBerry® Torch™ 9800 smartphone is a really interesting device because it combines many BlackBerry smartphone standards (full QWERTY keypad, touch screen, trackpad) in a fresh package with the new BlackBerry® 6 OS. Check out my email interview below with Product Manager Annu Dawar, to find out how his team pulled it all together to build the BlackBerry Torch 9800 smartphone.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Annu Dawar and I’m a Senior Handheld Product Manager here at Research In Motion® (RIM). I have the pleasure of seeing a handheld from inception, through development and finally to commercialization. The most exciting part of my job is being able to talk to customers, use their feedback to work with a great engineering team and bring new BlackBerry smartphones to market. It’s very rewarding!
What were your key responsibilities PM’ing BlackBerry Torch?
A Product Manager for a BlackBerry smartphone works closely with a lot of different groups to bring all the elements together – it could be an engineering team, a marketing team, external groups or even our factory. My key responsibilities involve coordinating the efforts of all these teams to bring the handheld to market.
What were you trying to deliver with the BlackBerry Torch?
Well, quite simply, the best BlackBerry smartphone…ever! BlackBerry Torch is our first device with BlackBerry 6, and the first with a full QWERTY keyboard plus a touch screen. That was a big deal for us, so we wanted to make sure we created an experience that takes advantage of all those things in a big way.
What do you think will strike people about the BlackBerry Torch smartphone the first time they see it?
When you see the device slide open for the first time, it’s instantly recognizable as a BlackBerry smartphone. We’ve done a good job of making sure we stayed true to our DNA and taken design cues from the rest of the 2010 BlackBerry smartphone portfolio.
The BlackBerry Torch 9800 smartphone features the evolved form of practically every input mechanism ever seen on a BlackBerry smartphone: trackpad, touch screen and full QWERTY keypad. How did you approach integrating these features into one smartphone?
Great question. It wasn’t easy. But we tried to stay true to our development heritage. We took all the experience we have building great keyboards and applied it to this new slider form factor. We tried to make sure that navigating BlackBerry 6 purely with the keyboard and trackpad was a great experience, just like any other full QWERTY BlackBerry smartphone in market today. At the same time, we made sure the BlackBerry Torch smartphone fluidly implemented the touch navigation and input support in BlackBerry 6.
We thought about what people would want to do with the smartphone when it was ‘closed’ and when it was ‘open’. We made sure when the smartphone was closed it had a great virtual keyboard and when it was open it would provide the QWERTY BlackBerry smartphone experience you know and love today. We also relentlessly tested the way the BlackBerry Torch smartphone fit in your hand to help make sure it felt right; that it felt soft and that the weight distribution was natural. We’re really happy with how it turned out.
What were some of the biggest hurdles you overcame to get it all to work together?
We work hard to make sure the BlackBerry Torch smartphone does what the user wants, without them having to really think about it. So I would say one of the biggest hurdles was deciding how we wanted the BlackBerry Torch smartphone to interact with BlackBerry 6 in a natural way. For example, if you are in the phone application and you slide open the keyboard, you probably want to type the name of someone to call, so we will bring up your phone book. If you are on the Home Screen and you slide open the keyboard, you probably want to search, so that’s what we do. We worked hard to make sure the BlackBerry 6 Action Menus had the right options, the most common tasks that everyday people use. We had endless internal debates about how to do things, and in the end, I’m really proud of how BlackBerry 6 and the BlackBerry Torch smartphone work together.
Sliders aren’t new and BlackBerry smartphones have been around for a long time. Why choose that form factor now?
People love our keyboards, our new trackpad navigation system has been a big hit too, and all the while customers have been asking us for more touch screen smartphones. So we listened! We took our core strength of building QWERTY smartphones and we added a touch screen on top of it. And not just any touch screen – we wanted to make sure it was big. The only way to fit all those things onto one phone was to make it a slider. We believe we have created a really amazing smartphone!
The BlackBerry Torch is also the first BlackBerry smartphone to launch with BlackBerry 6. For longtime BlackBerry smartphone users, what will be the biggest change for them?
I’m a longtime BlackBerry smartphone user myself, and being totally honest, the biggest change for me was breaking all my old habits. I’ve used BlackBerry smartphones for so long that I have developed my own routines and ways of doing things. With BlackBerry 6, we’ve added a bunch of new features that makes things way easier to do, but at the same time, we’ve kept all the old BlackBerry goodness. So, for the first little while, I found myself doing things the old way.
Here is a great example that always leaves me shaking my head afterward when I realize I haven’t taken advantage of BlackBerry 6. I find myself checking which meeting I have to run to next: I open my calendar, click on the day and then scroll to the time. Still works, but that’s the old way of doing things! The new and more efficient way is to click on the quick access bar on the Home Screen and my next three meetings are displayed right there! One-click! It’s a great feature in BlackBerry 6, but it’s so hard to break old habits. So I really want to emphasize this point: longtime BlackBerry smartphone users should definitely check out the new tutorials in BlackBerry 6 (and read our Inside BlackBerry posts – ed.) to see firsthand the new ways they can do things. You won’t regret it!
That’s a good point. A lot of work has obviously gone into making BlackBerry 6 as user friendly as possible (with the new UI, tutorials and startup screen, et cetera). What do you think is the most important aspect of BlackBerry 6 for new users in getting them quickly enjoying the power of the BlackBerry platform?
For me, hands down, the Action Menus are the easiest, most friendly way to unlock the power of BlackBerry 6 on the BlackBerry Torch. Anytime you want to do something, you simply touch the screen and hold your finger down. A graphical menu will pop-up and you will be presented with the most common tasks available to you.
The Action Menus were a deliberate attempt to reduce the number of menus we have in the BlackBerry OS. Over the last 10 years of building BlackBerry smartphones, we’ve stacked up lots of powerful features, but most times you will only frequently use a few specific ones. Now, you can just press and hold the touch screen and you will be rewarded.
What new feature of BlackBerry 6 are you using the most on the BlackBerry Torch?
Well, if I look at the “Frequent” pane on my Home Screen, my favorite app is BlackBerry Messenger, but second is the BlackBerry Browser. The new browser is simply awesome. I love the way it looks, feels and how fast it is! On the big touch screen of the BlackBerry Torch smartphone, it really comes to life, so it’s hard not to use it all the time.