Research In Motion Previews Ambitious BlackBerry OS 6

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion today previewed the upcoming version of its mobile device operating system, showing off new smartphone software that features improved social networking tie-ins and new user interface capabilities.

BlackBerry 6 is due out next quarter, which puts it on track for a release in late summer or early fall. The preview consisted of a two-minute video clip shown at the company's Wireless Enterprise Symposium developer conference in Orlando, Fla. this week.

The video showed tight integration with social networks such as Facebook and a multitouch interface, similar to the iPhone's. The video also demonstrated a user switching quickly between instant messaging, his Facebook status page, and other apps with the flick of a finger, while also using a simple, two finger "pinch-to-zoom" motion to enlarge images. The new OS also features a multi-tab browser based on the same open source Webkit browser engine Apple uses for Safari in the iPhone.

The new BlackBerry 6 OS will feature "crisp, more immersive visuals, including new graphics, animations and transitions," a spokesperson for RIM said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com. Other improvements include a redesigned set of core applications, universal search, and a new application for integrating RSS and social networking feeds.

"They're using Webkit for the browser and that changes the parameters of what you display and how you develop for it. That's a big change for RIM," analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates, told InternetNews.com. "I think they're going to be very aggressive about getting BlackBerry 6 devices into the market as soon as they can; even by the June/July timeframe if possible."

The news comes at a crucial time for RIM, which is seeking to overcome the perception of its BlackBerry line as reliable but more stodgy and conventional than Apple's iPhone and a growing number of Android-powered devices. RIM garnered several positive comments at its blog site after posting the video. However, posters there and at other sites complained that the preview had been limited to the brief video and that RIM wasn't prepared to show attendees something more detailed -- they wanted a live demo.

"Looks interesting…it's about time that BlackBerry improved the browser and interface to compete with the iPhone," said one user posting as sebastienrahman. "I'm a BlackBerry user and more often these days, I need to use my browser, which currently is very limiting. Hope it lives up to the hype...if it does, I'm buying a BlackBerry 6!

"... did RIM just make the BB OS sexy?" writes another poster, Ryan Nickel. "WOW! Good job!!"

On Monday, RIM debuted two new BlackBerrys, the Bold 9650 and BlackBerry Pearl 3G, that will run the current OS 5.0 operating system. Reuters quoted RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis as saying the company hopes to get the new OS on all its smartphones, though he said integration "takes time."

As for current models, Lazaridis was quoted as saying, "We are going to try and do our best to allow people to upgrade to 6.0."

Awaiting Awesome BlackBerry Applications

Analyst Ben Bajarin said RIM hasn't yet tipped its hand on one key element of the new OS: applications.

"What they showed in the video is a UI we're unfamiliar with; I see hints of the iPhone and Android there, which probably makes sense for them to freshen the platform but keep it familiar," Bajarin, analyst with Creative Strategies, told InternetNews.com.

"But what we've been waiting for is a much better BlackBerry application store," Bajarin added. "Most of the industry agrees that software is a way to differentiate a mobile platform. They don't have to match the mass quantity of apps on the iPhone, but they have to show they can get the big developers on the platform doing applications consumers want. "

Bajarin said he expects RIM to maintain its leadership position in enterprise mobile, but faces a tough challenge on the consumer side. He thinks Microsoft's approach of bringing out new devices aimed at specific use cases, specifically the new Kin phone that Microsoft released for consumers, is a trend that may prove more successful than a one-size-fits-all smartphone.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


Android, Blackberry, iPhone, smartphone, RIM