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Interview with Joseph Hofer, BlackBerry’s Senior Industrial Designer: BlackBerry Z10 was in development “for over two years”


The last flagship smartphone BlackBerry released in Canada was the Bold 9900 and enthusiasts flocked to purchase this professional and, at the time, premium device. The 9900 represented the essence of a BlackBerry user, as it sported the iconic physical QWERTY keyboard, stylized metal bezel and touchscreen display. This was way back on August 12th, 2011 – now well over 500 days ago – and in the technology sector, especially mobile, that’s unheard of. Imagine running a tech business without offering your customers a product for over a year. That was BlackBerry (RIM).

Smartphones have dramatically shifted over the past couple years; whereas they used to be mainly for communication, they are now full-fledged content consumption devices. BlackBerry is surprisingly a stable business with $2 billion in the bank and 79 million loyal customers, but significantly trails the competition in market share. Analysts recently reported that both Android and iOS captured 92% of the smartphone market last quarter. These stats have surprisingly not phased BlackBerry and the company eagerly anticipates its revival with the release of BlackBerry 10, alongside a couple of new handsets, the BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Q10.

Late last week I spoke with Joseph Hofer, BlackBerry’s Senior Industrial Designer, and he gave me some insight into how they created their newest BlackBerry smartphone – the BlackBerry Z10. “When we looked at designing the first smartphone for our new mobile computing platform we really wanted to make sure that the BlackBerry 10 operating system and user experience took centre stage,” he said. “The design, in a way, supported that. It was all about really choosing a frame, choosing a language that was understated and that really allowed it to shine.”

Hofer specifically talked about the design of the Z10, noting that it’s been a work in progress for over  two years.” Everyone stressed about the minor details, one of which was the font on the keyboard. “Something that you might find interesting is that the font that we use is by a Canadian designer by the name of Rod McDonald. We’ve used this for it’s legibility. It’s designed as a very legible font. We use it in the keyboard as well as the keyboard on the physical keyboard, so there is a consistency there throughout the UI,” says Hofer. By the way font is called “Slate Pro.”

Much of the hardware design stems from the insanely-priced Porsche Design P’9981. This upscale device has a matte black finish along with stainless steel frame and hand-wrapped leather backing. The P’9981 device, according to Hofer, is “where we began the development” of the Z10. “You can see on the front that there’s this edge to edge glass. [The Z10] is made of glass at the front, it’s really to support the swiping gestures to do with the new user experience. As well the frame is a combination of metal and plastic with a coating that’s a bit satin – for areas that you would hold or touch so you’re confident about what you can touch and what you can’t.”

BlackBerry decided upon a 4.2-inch display because “it was the sweet spot between an immersive experience with BlackBerry 10, but also small enough to fit in your pocket, to be used with one-hand. We find that this is just the right size for our first product.” This leads me to believe that they’ll be coming out with larger BlackBerry 10 device in the future. BlackBerry publicly declared that a total of six BB10 devices will be released this year, so anything is possible.

When the Dev Alpha device was handed out to developers during BlackBerry World last year some stated it resembled a BlackBerry PlayBook. This is true: it does have a similar look and feel to it. All glass and a unique backing. “The back has this very interesting textured surface, but also with a bit of a soft to the touch coating,” Hofer said. “That was inspired by PlayBook and we had a lot of great reviews and responses from PlayBook. The grippiness of it allows you to be confident as you’re walking on the go. So that is something we applied here. What you might notice as well is drawn from the Bold 9900 is that we’ve pulled the edge just gently around in a small curve. What that allowed is as you use the product over time it feels really great in your hand. It not sharp and also that soft coating does wrap over the edge so you’re not touching the edge-to-edge glass.”

While BlackBerry treads back into the limelight with BlackBerry 10, perhaps the most telling answer from Hofer was when I asked him what he sees when he looks at the Z10: “When I look at this product what I see the faces and relationships of all of the people that I’ve worked with at BlackBerry to make this happen. The commitment and just the passion behind them all. All of the conversations we’ve had for over two years and just stressing about the details.”

At the end of the day, at its core, our device, whether it is the Z10 or another smartphone, is really about the “faces and relationships,” and how we stay connected.

  • Skazzer

    No wonder the specs are two years old!

    • RIM Stock

      So he started developing BB10 in highschool;then the prom came and that’s why developing of BB10 took so long!

      He gets to work with Alicia Keys now, now both of them will take BB to the next place.

      “Take me to New Yokr, new, York New Yooork” Says Alicia

    • KarlR

      ..two years and yet the phone is late to the US market, and the design isn’t as nice as iPhone.

      RIP RIM
      RIP RIP!

    • Yimitiei

      two years to develop a rectangle LOL

    • JUST SAYING

      that is right RIM released BB10 and BBq10 in 2013 and it should be released in 2010 or 2011

      too old too late

      old design and technology

    • Nasdaq

      I could comment or just state a FACT:

      RIMM closed today at less than $13.
      It dropped 12% on LAUNCH Day
      It dropped 6% today.
      It has dropped mora than 30% since Monday.
      Tomorrow it will be the LAST DAY OF RIMM trade EVER!
      Expect another 5% loss on the last day of RIMM.

      The future is gRIMM!
      As of next week we will have to get another pun that ends with BlackbeRIP.

      On Monday we will start quoting losses for BBRY

  • Joe Joe

    LSL $((@#_@_! @_!_*___?

    Other then phone geeks (myself as one), I highly doubt the regular consumers out there, really care about this phone.
    I mentioned the release of this phone to many of my friends yesterday who are clueless about phones and every single one of them did not care and could care less. The answer most of them said was “blackberry sucks”. I let them know that it was a completely new operating system and phone and still they did not care.
    If the regular consumer clearly wants to stay far far away from blackberry’s who is left other then people like us on this site?
    Business people?
    Doubt it, Many many companies that had blackberrys have moved on and have been offering employees alternatives like the iPhone and such, I doubt these employees would be so willing to give up an iPhone to go back to a blackberry.

    I like the phone, but i do not see myself buying it. Something about the price tag, the design and the lack of apps does not appeal to me. Although i am sure it will appeal to many others, just not enough to save Blackberry.

    Its totally sad to see a once great Canadian company go down in flames but they have nobody to blame but themselves.

    • BIll Murray

      It is those people, the ones who know nothing about phones, specs, hardware, or anything, will buy the new blackberry phones! because they are technically good phones, and I think that everyone in there 20′s now, has at some point had a blackberry, so it will be the phone the go back to.

    • Joe Joe

      apparently this is a Blackberry sponsored posting as my posting was changed…
      The first line of my post originally said…
      “And this guy still has a job?”
      Of course it has been conveniently changed.
      Looks like Blackberry has its social media crew trolling around trying to squash any negative news or comments made about its average phones.

    • Joe Joe

      How sooooo wrong you are Bill,
      The people in their 20′s who have had a Blackberry will not be going back to one.
      These tweens with blackberrys want to get far far away from them.
      They see all their friends with iPhones and Androids with all these amazing games and apps and then look at themselves and all they have is BBM.
      Who needs the closed ecosystem of BBM when there are apps like Whatsapp that does the same thing more or less but cross platform and free?
      These tweens feel stupid with their outdated blackberry’s around other people and i highly doubt when it comes time to renew contacts, they will opt for the new blackberry. They will run the other way as fast as they can.
      How do i know this? observation, at work, with my younger siblings friends.

      Yes these new Blackberrys have better apps, but nowhere near in comparison to what Apple and Google have on offer and i doubt they will ever be able to get up there.

    • ile2010

      @Bill. Because people flocked to Windows Phones, right?

  • RIM Stock

    Like we needed an interview to “learn” that BB10 took two years to arrive/develop! The phone and ecosystem is OK but the $550 price will kill it.

    People won’t pay a premium for a BB anymore. Then can get Way way more phone for $550 somewhere else.

    With the release of the Z10 in March in the rest of the world and the Q10 “in the spring” and a price of $550, the phone is DOA if they don’t drop the price!

    According to engadget the S4 is coming by the end of April, with an axpected price of $650 you could spend $100 more and get an S4 instead of a Z10.

    Meanwhile RIM stock is in the $13s.
    -The market has spoken!

    • Porilaisten

      You think they work for charity? I was surprised it was THAT low. If it was priced any lower they would have to take even more specs and features off.

    • RIM Stock

      Its not about how much the devices are worth look at any ixxx!

      isheep are WILLING TO PAY extra $$ for a thing that has a bitten apple-logo on it.

      BB can price the Z10 as low or as high as they want, but my point is: PEOPLE ARE NOT WILLING TO PAY $550 for a Z10.
      -End of statement.

      If they were to price it lower, they would sell more. We would have to wait for the hardware dissection from one of those sites to see how much the sum of the components are but I doubt that itl will be more than $300 ( the phone has specs from end of 2011!)

      I bet that if it was up to BB: they would sell every phone at one millon dollars just to recoup the losses, heck! the 9900 is still priced at $630!! so if they were to price the phone at $350 and make $50 out of every phone Plus the $$ from the BB world/apps plus the commission from the operators, they would be in OK shape and killing Win8.
      They could drop the price and enjoy economy of scales if they were to kill the Q10 and focus on ONE PHONE THAT SELLS!!
      -But they won’t and for that reason Alicia Keys or Justine the Bieber or both, wont be enough to save “the berry”

    • sp

      @Rim Stock – hmm thats funny that you say NO ONE…

      Line Ups of people in the UK on the release of the Z10 today beg to differ.

      People who are on the reserve/waiting lists in Canada to pick up the Z10 beg to differ. And yeah before you say oh what the 10 people…you are actually wrong.

      so before you say NO ONE… should get your facts straight.

    • Joe Joe

      Something tells me that the launch of this phone is going to be an exact replica of the Playbook.
      Within a few months, Blackberry will notice that after the initial hype and launch that they have only pushed a fraction of the numbers that they projected, thus massively slashing the price of these phones just like they did with the Playbook.
      However, at this point, early adopters will be pissed that A) they bought the phone at a premium and are probably locked into a 3 year contract and B) They bought the phone outright and are pissed that the phone now costs a fraction of the cost.
      This will piss off many many people that Blackberry cannot afford right now.
      But what choice do they have? Keep selling an average phone at an above average price for its specification? That probably won’t do them well because they will not sell. Or, they can slash the price and piss off all the early adopters that have been backing them since day 1.
      Whatever happens, it is not going to be pretty for Blackberry.

    • R u Serious?

      Something tells me that the launch of this phone is going to be an exact replica of the Playbook.
      Within a few months, Blackberry will notice that after the initial hype and launch that they have only pushed a fraction of the numbers that they projected, thus massively slashing the price of these phones just like they did with the Playbook.
      However, at this point, early adopters will be pissed that A) they bought the phone at a premium and are probably locked into a 3 year contract and B) They bought the phone outright and are pissed that the phone now costs a fraction of the cost.
      This will piss off many many people that Blackberry cannot afford right now.
      But what choice do they have? Keep selling an average phone at an above average price for its specification? That probably won’t do them well because they will not sell. Or, they can slash the price and piss off all the early adopters that have been backing them since day 1.
      Whatever happens, it is not going to be pretty for Blackberry.

  • farmerguy

    I believe its the Q10 not the X10 anymore.

  • Jb

    Z10 looks awesome cant wait to pick one up. There are already huge lineups in the uk for this device.

    • monsterduc1000

      JB: Lineups? Why? Being Canadian I want to see BlackBerry succeed, but these phones are nothing special. Maybe a year ago when they should have been released, but they have a huge battle now because of all the languishing they did.

    • BOKU

      “There are already huge lineups in the uk for this device”
      That’s the biggest BS I had heard
      Canadian are not stupid
      Don’t get me wrong, those new device are not bad
      but the problem is they are not the best on the market

  • monsterduc1000

    It’s BlackBerry now, not RIM :-)

    • RIM Stock

      So what do I do with this “RIP” that I have in my pocket. Where can I put it now?

  • BOKU

    WOW!!!
    why was my previous comment got deleted???
    is this news being paid by BB?

  • blackprince

    Two years and its still an underwhelming device that’s pretty stale looking. Not good news for Blackberry,

  • Anonymous

    A lot of comments are getting deleted if they say any negative truths.

  • Dony

    the sreen is too small!!! 4.2 inch…
    and the bezel are giant!

  • Dale

    have any of you even held or played with a Z10 before making your comments?

    • nexus 4 life

      and for your big fat information i have been using a z10 for 2 weeks alpha then the real thing last night and yes as you predicted it is lousy device. very ugly and laggy outdated copy of the iphone.

    • TheIphoneMam

      In reply to nexus 4 life: I highly doubt your credability, since some of the most highly respected blackberry bloggers say it never slows down

  • nexus 4 life

    just got back from there launch event. it was nice free boos. i honestly gotta say the z10 is absolutely terrible. the douche bag tries so hard to hype up features i have seen since 2010. the phone steals so many outer elements from the iphone its not even funny. it was very laggy and buggy. the Q10 seems much better built and more thought went into it. the android apps are also gingerbread looking. not trying to bash rim but the z10 is massively overpriced. i will applaud them for event flo rida performed and they gave away phones which seemed rigged cause groups of friends were winning z10. some packy git got arrested for trying to steal 3 z10. that was amusing. all in all great launch event. i recommend waiting till spring for the Q10. Full touch is not rimss forte.

    • sp

      yes.. we absolutely believe you that you were there.

      stop talking out of your a*s.

      go back to your Nexus 4 and crawl back into your Google heaven hole.

      And I still will be using the S3 until i get my Z10

  • William

    Does he pronounce it “zed ten” or “zee ten”?

  • Waiting for Razr M HD w/3300mah

    So will it be another 2 years before we see the Z11? No confidence in Rim

  • Sgt.Romanov

    Samsung to big like holding a pan to the side of your head , IPHONE nothing has really changed and to exspensive thats why Apple stock will soon drop to $425 nothing innovative coming out of Apple , getting old and tired would be a good time to sell Apple stock

  • WHY?

    WHY? are posts waiting for moderation?
    For sure this posting is Blackberry backed and any negative comment is being deleted or changed.
    I guess mobilesyrup is not what it used to be…

  • KL

    Lol, the trolls are out in full force today.

    • some guy

      When are we not out in force?
      It’s a lifestyle to be a troll. Some take pride in their work, some just keep writing the same lame line over and over.

      Regardless, Blackberry hasn’t exactly made it difficult to ridicule everything they do. I’m reserving the majority of my judgement until a few months from now… but after my brief hands on with the z10, I give it 3 “meh’s” out of a possible 5.

  • R u Serious?

    Something tells me that the launch of this phone is going to be an exact replica of the Playbook.
    Within a few months, Blackberry will notice that after the initial hype and launch that they have only pushed a fraction of the numbers that they projected, thus massively slashing the price of these phones just like they did with the Playbook.
    However, at this point, early adopters will be pissed that A) they bought the phone at a premium and are probably locked into a 3 year contract and B) They bought the phone outright and are pissed that the phone now costs a fraction of the cost.
    This will piss off many many people that Blackberry cannot afford right now.
    But what choice do they have? Keep selling an average phone at an above average price for its specification? That probably won’t do them well because they will not sell. Or, they can slash the price and piss off all the early adopters that have been backing them since day 1.
    Whatever happens, it is not going to be pretty for Blackberry.

  • TheIPhoneMan

    What the heck is wrong with you people? How is this phone old over priced or outdated? Maybe compared to Droids with their specs better than most 4 year old laptops.. but seriously? If you compare it to the rest of the competition A.K.A. the IPhone 5 which was released only a few months ago, its a God.. almost all the specs (for you droidys who love specs) are better than the IPhone5, the camera is on par with most other high end devices, but it has way more features. (FOR GOD SAKES SHOW ME A TIME SHIFT CAMERA ON A DROID OR IPHONE!) And overpriced? Really? This 16GB Iphone is more expensive and it doesn’t even have expandable memory to say the least…. I swear half of you people commenting don’t even know what your talking about, sure, its wrong to delete negative comments, but if they are, RIM is doing the public a favor by deleting idiotic lies.

    • sp

      totally agree with you on this.

      iPhone 5 16 – 699, 32 – 799 64 – 899 (non expandable memory)
      S3 16 – 649 32 – 749 (expandable memory, removable battery)
      Note 2 799 (expandable memory, removable battery)
      Lumia 920 – 599
      Nexus 4 NOT from Playstore around 550-600 (non expandable memory, non removable battery, non native LTE, USB debugging not available)

      so its pretty on point with all the phones out there.. and if you think this isnt a smart phone… then you need to wake up.

      just because it wont play your 100,000′s of fart apps or isnt life lined to iTunes…

      Z10 and Q10 are going to be great phones and a great alternative to whats out there in the market!

    • some guy

      ERMAGERD! TERM SHERFT!

      Seriously… if that’s the big feature that everyone is using as a rebuttal, RI..*cough* Blackberry has a bleak future ahead of itself. It’s a gimmick, a neat feature that won’t sell a device. It’s not like people are going to walk into a store and say “I’ll take the Blackberry because it has Timeshift and I am photographically OCD and have to make sure I have the perfect picture… taken on a cellphone camera.”

      HAHAHA, I wish Blackberry the best of luck and hope you are successful, but all the service issues and poor support in the past lost you this loyal customer. I just hope you didn’t lose too many like me.

  • Miknitro

    Someone’s jealous of the new BB10 here it seems.
    Is it time to drop another bag of nickels down the manhole to quell the rioting trolls?

  • xenrobia

    Wow… would you look at all the corporate trolls in the BlackBerry articles. I told you they would be coming out in full force. The question to ask is, why can’t Apple and Android phones do what the BB10 can?

  • coppel

    Gotta say that as a Canadian I really really want to see Blackberry succeed. OK so Apple and Android are untouchable for now. But it would still be nice to be a solid number three and ninja-kick Nokia/Windows.

    My concern is that Blackberry, the company, is just plain too small to compete with these much bigger players when it comes to pumping out good products fast. Heck even the Playbook might not have been a bust if they had actually cranked out a solid update after a few months and not just let the poor thing languish there forever.

    The Z10 looks to be a solid phone. Many here have pointed out the specs down’t quite lift it up to the top tier of “flagship phone”. I guess I agree with that but what concerns me more is the likelihood that little Blackberry will take too long to update it (hardware and software).

    Oh Blackberry please prove me wrong and pump out the updates/upgrades.

    I’d like to buy one – the heart says yes.

  • some guy

    LOL… my comments were deleted!
    anything not pro-Blackberry gets cut out I see. It was there, heck, someone responded. Now it’s disappeared into the ether.

  • Kostas Kritsilas

    The design of the Z10 isn’t bad, but nothing outstanding, or anything that will stand out from the crowd. While I have not used the phone myself, there are a number of things that I wish to point out:

    1. Even for business use, removable batteries are not a deal breaker for most, as long as battery life is good enough to last through an entire day. There are more than a few iPhones being used in business today, and there hasn’t been much of an outcry.

    2. In a similar way, non-expandable memory is not a deal breaker either in most cases. Large amounts of flash memory are really only necessary for quantities of movies or music. If the user is disciplined enough to keep that down to a minimum, there is plenty of space in a 16GB phone for apps and regular non-media data storage. People will start talking about movies and images taken with the on-board camera, but to be honest, taking enough pictures or images to fill up a 16GB phone, is sort of taking a lot of chances; most people will transfer that out of the phone and onto a computer or cloud storage for long term storage. If the phone is lost or stolen, and the images are not backed up, the movies and images are gone, too.

    3. iPhone users are often called iSheep. I don’t think that the Android crowd is any less herd minded than the Apple iPhone crowd, and by the looks of things on the comments here, neither are the BB users.

    One of the major advantages to an iPhone that most people who don’t have one is service from Apple. If you damage an iPhone, or the battery needs replacing, just bring it to an Apple store, or mail it to Apple. If the same happens with a Blackberry (any Blackberry, not just the Z10/Q10) or and Android phone, things are a lot more difficult; you either bring it back to the carrier, who will repair it for a fee (often higher than the Apple repair fees), and will also be more than happy to rent you a replacement phone while your own phone is being repaired, or you bring it to a third party repair place. The third party repalir place may take a few days to a a month to repair the unit, they may do a good repair job or not, and may or may not use the OEM parts or not.

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