The highlight of the BlackBerry World 2012 show has been RIM's decision to seed around 2,000 prototype units running a pre-release version of its BlackBerry 10 OS to developers.
It's stressed that this is not a consumer device, nor the finished OS, but it seems to be shaping up as a contender.
Under the hood
In terms of build quality, the Dev Alpha hardware is pretty much consumer production quality.
It's about the same size and shape as an iPhone 4S in terms of thickness, also being flat backed with rounded corners.
It uses a micro SD card, and has the usual mini-USB charge and HDMI out connections.
There's also a headphone jack, volume/mute buttons on the side, the traditional BlackBerry red notification LED on top, and front and rear cameras. No surprises there.
And, anyone who's held a PlayBook tablet will immediately see the real family resemblance. Basically the Dev Alpha device is a smaller PlayBook, including its innovative active screen margin, which is used to swipe up and down (directionally out) of the screen
This makes complete sense as the OS that the tablet runs is based on the same QNX core as BlackBerry 10, and from what we've heard from developers, any PlayBook game or app will run out-of-the-box on Dev Alpha.
However there are some interesting improvements.
The screen resolution of the hardware is 1280x768 compared to PlayBook's 1024x600 resolution.
This means the aspect ratio is slightly different - 1.67 to 1.70. As we understand it, Dev Alpha automatically up rezzes PlayBook content to fit, or developers can easily change their assets to ensure their game runs perfectly.
This means the Dev Alpha has a higher resolution device than iPhone 4S, which has a 960x640 resolution.
Developers also confirm that Dev Alpha has a better dots per inch screen resolution than Retina (which is 326 dpi).
Another interesting thing is that while the PlayBook used a chipset from Texas Instruments, it seems that the Dev Alpha uses a Qualcomm chipset.
That's not yet been confirmed, and potentially could be an issue for game developers, who often have to optimise their code for specific chips. Hopefully, RIM's tools will allow them to do this.
More to come?
Still, as RIM points out, the device is a prototype for developers, not a consumer device, but in terms of fundamentals such as the screen, the launch BlackBerry 10 devices are clearly going to be the same, otherwise there's no point giving such prototypes to developers
Of course, by the time consumer BlackBerry 10 devices are released - likely September - the next iPhone will be out, not to mention a wave of Android devices competing with the Galaxy S III, and Nokia's new Windows 8 phones.
So, a long way to go, but from what we've seen and heard at BlackBerry World 2012, RIM's certainly heading in the right direction.
And we think it has plenty of surprises up its sleeves too - especially when it comes to the user interface.