BlackBerry shows off its Theme Builder

Blackberry maker Research in Motion (RIM) gathered up a load of hacks this morning to let loose on the BlackBerry Theme Studio software.

Officially launched last November at the Blackberry Developer Conference in San Francisco, the theme builder allows anyone to customise their home screen, application list, dialog boxes, title bars, and all the other elements of the user interface such as fonts and background colours. This was an opportunity for us to get our hands on it, and crucially have some RIM helpers nearby for when we got confused, frustrated or just bewildered by the software.

BlackBerry claims in its press release that the Theme Studio 5.0 – to give it its official name –  was downloaded over 110,000 times in just one month after its launch. This morning this was shortened to over 100,000 in the first week. Whichever you believe, it shows that there is interest.

Basically, if you don’t like the positioning of your battery bar or the font of your clock, you can change that. The software allows you to completely overhaul how your BlackBerry looks, sounds and feels navigationally. And it’s free to download from the site.

Once you’ve created the perfect theme, it can be uploaded onto the BlackBerry Appworld. Obviously once you’ve registered and your theme meets certain criteria from BlackBerry (no porn, no unauthorised images, that sort of thing).

Using the software is extremely complicated. First you must log what type of BlackBerry you are designing for. This is one of the good features as the software allows you to customise already existing handset going back to the 8700 and 8110 Pearl models, meaning that if your phones a bit old, you can still create a theme for it.

Once opened the Builder looks a bit like Photoshop. It has a preview pane on the left, so you can see you Frankenstein’s monster as it is created and the changes are made through a hideously complex panel on the left. This panel may become easier to use with practice, but you could lose hours, days and weeks changing every minute detail. Full scores for being through as every detail can be tweaked according to font, image, animation, sound and colour.

The software doesn’t come with any pre-loaded pictures so all images uploaded must already be on your computer. It is Photoshop and GIMP compatible, which is useful in this circumstance.

BlackBerry themes

BlackBerry seems unsure what the market is for this, mentioning both the teenage market and business as potential customers this morning. However, this software would be far too time-consuming for the teenage market. Businesses also may want to roll out a theme for employees, but in practical terms how quickly would their employees get rid of the official theme and go with their own. Not to mention the poor IT drone who’d have to design it. RIM told TechEye that it was not planning on creating themes for larger companies, as it did for the U2 phone last year.

Overall the BlackBerry Theme Studio is an excellent diversion, if you have a spare couple of days, why not. But sadly I don’t think many of BlackBerry’s customers will have the time.

*Update 29 Jan 2009. RIM now tells us that Theme Studio does ship with a number of images, sample cursors and sample themes.