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If yesterday couldn’t be considered a ‘good’ day for RIM, it was certainly a hopeful one. To an audience made up of mostly developers and some tech media, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins and co. lifted the curtain (almost literally) on some of the features you can expect to see when BlackBerry 10 finally comes to life sometime soon after the New Year. Needless to say, what was shown bears virtually no resemblance to anything the company has done before.
RIM has been holding “Jam” events across North America this year, as they try to shore up support for the unproven and mystical platform. This session in San Jose, CA was probably the most revealing and public of any that preceded it. There are still a lot of question marks about what the new operating system will be capable of, but at least there’s some insight to go on.
Much of what BB10 does is being called “Flow” as an encompassing term to describe the fluidity and user-friendliness of the platform. Slide here, slide there and new panels come into view, offering up information that you need or want on-demand. It’s hard to say exactly how well this will work on demos that are clearly beta, if not alpha. What is obvious is that the clunky interface of the current BlackBerry OS will soon be a thing of the past.
The ‘slide here, slide there’ refers also to something called BlackBerry Peek. The lock screen acts like a curtain where you slide up from the bottom to reveal what’s underneath. In practice, this would let you see who sent an email or BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) message without having to unlock the phone and go to an app. The same goes for working in one app but wanting to see something from another. You could be browsing for apps in App World, and should a BBM message, text or email come in, you can pull out the inbox from the left side, view the message, respond to it, and then slide the inbox away to go right back to where you were.
The inbox is also a combined one. It’s customizable to allow you to view not just email, but also LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other messages in just one inbox. The apps the messages fall under are identified by corresponding icons to the left of the subject line. RIM calls this BlackBerry Hub because of how it links accounts together into one place, all of which can be accessed at any time. Above the messages are events based on calendar and Facebook entries, making it even easier to invite others or message attendees.
BBM also looks like it’s gone through a facelift, if not a total overhaul. The whole interface is so visual, it looks like a social network app. And perhaps that’s the point. As mentioned above, BBM is pretty much accessible at any time, and the keyboard’s predictive text is designed to learn the type of words and language you use to make the feature better over time. Words will pop up underneath keys, and sliding them up includes them in the message. Slide backwards and you erase a word in its entirety instead of having to tap the delete key.
Then there’s BlackBerry Balance, which is the complete separation of personal and work accounts. This apparently also extends to App World, making it possible to only download apps that would be ideal and safe for the workplace. Having these built-in could make a big difference for companies that have embraced the BYOD (Bring your own device) concept that has grown in popularity the last couple of years.
App World itself resembles a proper app and content portal, and the new version is expected to serve up the usual fare of apps, TV and movie rentals, games and more. Not a great deal is known about any further developments on that front, like Android compatibility, for instance.
The camera has been demoed before, so nothing new was shown there. And a dedicated Facebook app was also presented, providing clues as to how social networks may integrate with core BlackBerry apps once the new platform comes to market and matures.
And perhaps most importantly, Heins made it clear that the BB10 launch is “on track” for the “early part of early 2013”, which could mean a January or early February launch is imminent. Canadian carriers, along with others around the world, will begin testing the first two BB10 devices in October. The devices shown at the event are also conceptual, so it’s unlikely these will be what they look like when they finally hit stores.
In a lot of ways, this was just a peek (pardon the pun) at what RIM is up to, but it was more of a glance in some respects. Is it enough to build some anticipation for what the company will have to offer? Time will tell, but you can expect more details to trickle out as we get closer to that elusive launch date.
Heins’ keynote and the demos are all up on the Web, and you can see them here.