10 Weeks of BlackBerry 10: Active Frames

In our '10 Weeks of BlackBerry 10' series we'll explore one feature of BlackBerry 10 each week leading up to the launch event on January 30th. This week: Active Frames
Active Frames
By Adam Zeis on 3 Dec 2012 03:01 pm EST

The BlackBerry OS never really had any "widgets" aside from a few third-party apps, but BlackBerry 10 will be giving us Active Frames. Don't call them widgets. Don't call them live tiles. Active Frames are different from both and are unique to BB10.

Essentially, Active Frames are minimized versions of open and running applications that have their own panel on the home screen, displayed to the user as a 'mini version' of an app (set by the developer). For instance, in the native calendar and weather apps, you will see your appointments and today's weather, rather than just a smaller full-screen view. This is an important difference compared to the treatment of minimized apps on the BlackBerry PlayBook OS, which were just sized-down versions of the full app. That said, if a developer does not specify an Active Frame view, it will display as the full app shrunk down.

You can have up to eight open Active Frames on your home screen, and the order is display by the most recently accessed application, contributing to that "always in" feeling of BlackBerry 10 (maybe one day we'll also see the ability to pin an Active Frame too). 

Active Frames come in handy in that you always have quick access to the apps you are using. Say you have the browser, calendar, BBM and Twitter open -- you won't have to search around for the icon to open the app, it's just there. You'll also be able to see updates quickly. Take BBM for example. BBM on BlackBerry 10 already shows your latest updates - be it a photo, contact status update or what have you. Same goes for the calendar - you get a quick look at your upcoming appointments without having to open the app itself. 

For the start, Active Frames on BB10 will be awesome. Maybe down the line we'll see InterActive Frames which would be even awesomer, but for now we're plenty happy with the way things are. In mobile today, be it Android, iOS, Windows Phone or even the legacy BlackBerry OS, most of the time the homescreen experience is fixed in the sense that people customize the layout of it (whether it's just icons and folders, or widgets or live tiles). With Active Frames, this portion of the homescreen experience is always changing as you use the phone. It's a fundamental difference, and we think a powerful one. As you use BlackBerry 10, you'll find the app you want to jump into is always going to be right there, at your finger tip in the Active Frame screen. And tapping on Active Frame instantly takes you into that app experience (it's already open afterall). The speed and process of Active Frames saves you seconds everytime you use the phone, and we love that.

Check out more features we're looking forward to in our 10 Weeks of BlackBerry 10 series . 

Adam Zeis Adam Zeis "Mobile Nations Content Strategist" 3740 (articles) 2892 (forum posts)

Reader comments

10 Weeks of BlackBerry 10: Active Frames


Adam, always like your take. I was wondering is there a landscape view on BB10 yet, I haven't seen one, maybe I missed it. Love to see active frames in Landscape.

with beta 4 the refresh is lagging. It takes about 2 to 3 seconds before it is refreshed when you minimize the app. In beta 3 it was live.

also active frame only refreshes every 30 seconds so you can't do real time animation. Just static text/image updates.

I actually like the fact that it delays and doesn't go straight from minimized to active frames. It has a better effect and active doesn't NEED to be displayed right away because you literally just left the app, so you probably don't need to see what the Active frame is showing you.

I think a bit of a crossfire transition would be nicer, but for me it is a better effect to delay the transition, then to immediately switch over.

About the delay, surely it will be adjustable. It has presented though, if a BBM is sent, I believe it appears there right away, not 30 seconds later. Am I wrong? It would be nice to have them be LIVE, but not necessary for me.

Is there a way to switch off active framing so I can just have the app in the minimized state. I can see this being useful in for example let youtube play on one of the minimized apps.

i was kind of bummed having to add extra code to make active frames work. But, it adds character to the app for sure.

Couple things though:
- I was refreshing every second and it works fine - you can update more often and the image will update immediately... not realtime, but not bad either.
- i had issues with the 30 second update... the framework never called update for me.

Remember it's really meant to save battery life while still enabling the user to see relavent information. it's a neat feature with more options than the live tiles.

Great, new icons! Looks smooth. Blaze, any idea how the music player will look like ? I'm curious, I really wanna see it, because I use my music player A-LOT on mobile devices.

I would love to see the media player app as well. It would be great if the media player Active Frame would allow you to play/pause/skip tracks from within the frame. I believe Jolla's Sailfish OS allows for this. An inter-Active Frame would be amazing!

Really excited for this new phone... but RIM has a habbit of showing us previews of pure gold but actually giving us hand fulls of Ka Ka upon release. I think it will do really well because it new and up to date (ABOUT TIME). For all the poeple who couldnt or just wouldnt see that the iPhone 5 is just a longer version of the 4S... this will be a huge shocker and make them wish they had waited. Now... if they can only get app suppor like Skype and Flipboard then... I'M ALL IN (^_^)

Apps running in the background are throttled by default, unless the app requests otherwise temporarily (e.g. to update the screen)

I would hope that you can still choose when apps like FB and twitter refresh. In the future I hope to be able to scroll through twitter and FB while in their active frames. I also hope that developers will be able to choose from a set of standardized sizes for their active frames to be, the 4x4 layout is a little boring and unnecessary for many apps.

Re: "This is an important difference compared to the treatment of minimized apps on the BlackBerry PlayBook OS, which were just sized-down versions of the full app."

Not quite... There is no reason why this can't be done on PlayBook right now - an app is notified when it is minimized, and can simply adjust its screen. But the stock apps don't do it, so 3rd party apps haven't either.

@ Adam Zeis

Do I see a Nexia app? Is that to say that they have already developed a BB10 app or is that an android app?

That was awesome Adam! You were really whipping through there too between those screens and there didn't appear to be any lag time at all. I'm very impressed. I can't wait to brag about this feature to all of my Android & Apple using friends!

.... crazy idea here...
First page ad-hoc use apps, another page (say last page) with only permanently pinned apps (ones that we'll have always running, like bbm or browser).
If bbm is the most recently used app, it takes the top square in the first page, and remains in its pinned position in the pinned active frame page. If you open another app, that takes BBM's spot on the first page, but the pinned page will always remain the same.

I had just been researching the issue of multitasking on Apple iOS devices and I was astonished at how accepting Apple fans are of the fact that their expensive iPhones and iPads can only cope with running one app at a time.
I have just upgraded my laptop to Win8 and I am impressed with the active tiles that constantly update with news, info and messages.
This is the way forward as people get messages from various sources and need to be able to refer to and switch between them at will like with the BB10 Active Frames than having to press that Home button every time to keep in touch.

Are active frames like what the playbook does with everything running at the same time? And how well would that work on a qwerty device? It always seemed to confuse me

Active frames are a recent apps view that shows info in the thumbnail like a widget or live tile. Personally, I prefer to keep the two separate: a home screen that I can pin and sort information on and a recents screen that shows me what I've been using chronologically. With the two merged you still get the info (albeit less as they can't be re-sized like widgets or live tiles) and it's constantly moving around as you use the device. The only way to keep the frame in view is to either keep going back into it (which kinda defeats the purpose), or to manually close other apps that you aren't using or don't need an active frame for (which contradicts BB10's supposed reduction in "application awareness").

I think this way is much better und much more effective in everyday use. You don't even have to think about it, because it constantly adapts while you're using it. So if you use an app that often, it will be automatically under the top three.

The mess with widgets or live tiles in my opinion is, that you set them up because YOU THINK YOU WILL WANT TO HAVE THE INFO IN THAT PLACE. But at the end you might not even use them. It's a waste of resources.

And live tiles...live tiles doesn't show that much information, if you really want to be at top of your info you will have to open the app anyway. Noone can really use a windows phone through live tiles. It's just a gimmicky waste of resources. Take the picture tile for example. Or the contacts tile. They show changing images. What the heck is the benefit here? Sorry but it's garbage.

Windows 8 tiles are basically fancy shortcuts. So far I've only seen very limited data displaying on my windows 8 PC's tiles. BB10 frames are the app itself already running displaying whatever you want. The app running with a different Screen size basically. Screens inside a screen. Would be a good article for crackberry outlining the differences, at first glance everybody will think there the same. And everybody has seen windows 8 by now.

These are apps that he selected from what is available. It is not all BB 10 has to offer by a long shot

Anybody else notice the Yahoo! fantasy football app on Adam's device? I could be wrong, but I believe the app is an Android app that needs to be side-loaded since it's not available in BlackBerry World. I have it on my Playbook and had to side load it. This either confirms Android side loading on BB10 or that Yahoo! is making a BB10 app.

"...the homescreen experience is fixed in the sense that people customize the layout of it (whether it's just icons and folders, or widgets or live tiles). With Active Frames, this portion of the homescreen experience is always changing as you use the phone."

I never thought about this that way actually, but you're absolutely right! Huge point. This is exactly the way you have to see it. The homescreen adapts to your needs and habits automatically by using the phone. So if you check the weather not that often, it won't waste space on your homescreen, whereas Android users set up weather widgets just because they can. And I bet many of them doesn't even look at it anymore, but anyway it keeps wasting space and pulling data, draining the battery.

And now I understand even better why there are 'only' 8 active frames available. Sure it saves resources, but you'd simply get overcharged by more than 8. Imagine a third or even fourth page of active frames, you would simply lose the overview of which application might be still running and which one has to be restarted. Also searching for a speficic app under 12 oder 16 active frames would be just too much.

It's this little details which make BB10 superior, too sad many many iOS- and Android-folks doesn't even recognize the benefits.

Great post and some great things mentioned from Adam. I agree with pinning an app. What I am disliking now is closing an Active Frame via by its 'X' and not by swiping it away like on the PlayBook. Going back to pinning the app - this would be even better if RIM used the screens vertically as well.

Im writing this on my pb while im waiting for video on yotube to load up which is taking forever because of the shitty connection in the hotel. BUT it makes me appreciate TRUE multitasking even more ;) can't wait for that bb10 phone to have the same thing on my phone :)
Rocking my two berries:
Torch 9810 OS and Playbook OS
Twitter: @mr_theend

I am really excited about Blackberry 10 and to see what new things it brings, but the home screen, icon screens and active frames just looks like an android launcher. It wouldn't surprise me if the active frames are copied by an android developer in the not too distant future.

The same goes for the hub, it looks and seems to work just like webOS and windows phone.

The only unique thing I can really see so far with Blackberry 10 is the gesture based navigation, eliminating buttons which is a good thing but hardly a game changer. I am not a fan of any particular platform and have used them all so I am not biased.

Screens filled with app icons certainly do not make me sway towards Blackberry 10 at the moment (even though I'm sporting a BB phone and the playbook).

Let's be honest here ,i keep hearing apps apps apps ,but honestly think about it ,how many apps do you really use everyday ,i am in no way saying that apps are not important but think about it how many versions of angry birds are you really going to use on your phone
I think rim should focus in the core apps ,big name apps ,personally skype netflix to name a few ,somebody here mentioned flipbook ,which ks also a nice app
But as far as seeing the need for a quadrillion apps in app world i think its a waste
Have any of you tried navigating the google playstore or whatever its called nowadays there are so many apps and so many versions of apps that it takes forever to find what you really need
Not that is a bad thing per se ,but i would rather wave a app store with hardcore apps you actually use ,then an app store with a bazillion apps but a lot of it is junk
I love how the bb10 looks so far and i am waiting for it to come out ,my playbook is a dream and i still consider it FAR superior to the ipad ,but mu torch 9860 is another story though ,its old ,beaten slow ,hangs all the time and it's life is hanging by a string ,i just need it to hold on until bb10
The active frames loom sweet ,although the devs do have to make sure the minimize nicely as to make content richer
I honestly think rim should be fine once everyone sees this and opens their mind a little and stops buying a "top notch phone" because everyone says its top notch

Cool feature.

I like the idea of leaving apps open instead of having to re-launch them all the time. On my Playbook, I feel the need to close apps as thigns get sluggish when I have 2-3 apps open, such as the PIM suite.

I wonder how much battery drain will come with leaving apps open in active frames instead of shuttin 'em down.

On the PlayBook the level of multitasking is switchable under Settings > General > Application Behaviour. It really frustrates when I move from my PlayBook to an iPad and I'm trying to swipe to minimise, then I remember that I will not only have to press that damn Home button, but that I will then have to press it twice again to get back to the previous app. There is no choice of using more the one app at a time from Apple.

Guys, no disrespekt, but all I've seen from BB10 is an exact copy of Meego. The diference is, with Meego you have more innovation, like INTERACTIVE LIVE FRAMES, mentioned in the article.

Check this out

Besides at first BB10 looked a lot like WebOS. Now after WebOS is known buy more persons, RIM changed the UI that it looks more like the unknown Meego.

The only thing I like in BB10 and that i find innovative is the intelligent keyboard. The rest is just copied from the work of others.

And I think the fact that the costumers are forced to use an extra blackberry option at their carrier is nothing, that will help RIM. Here in Germany only few are offering it and only with expensive contracts.

Note: Please delete, wrong Topic :)

Can you have 8 on the personal side at once, as well as 8 on the work/business side at once, for an effective total of 16?

Also, in video: "Keep Calm and Call Batman" lol

Interesting. But it really comes down to support. Get devs to support this, and it has a great chance to stand out. Otherwise, it will be veiwed as a gimmick.