Research In Motion offered a sneak peek at its upcoming BlackBerry 10 operating system Tuesday at its annual BlackBerry World event in Orlando, Fla. The new platform, which is slated to launch later this year, is considered by many to be a make-or-break move for RIM, which has struggled to compete against smartphone rivals Apple and Google over the past year.
RIM CEO Thorsten Heins shared the stage Tuesday with Vivek Bhardwaj, head of software portfolios at RIM, to showcase some of the new features being delivered with BlackBerry 10. Among them are increased integration with social networking sites, including LinkedIn and Twitter, and a new touch user interface that will allow users to seamlessly "flow" between multiple apps, e-mails and text messages with the swipe of a finger.
Bhardwaj used a BlackBerry 10 touch-screen prototype device to demonstrate how users can have multiple apps and messages opened simultaneously on the screen. All opened apps continue to run in realtime in the "background," he explained, even if another app is launched. Users then have the option of toggling back and forth to multitask more efficiently.
"We want a user paradigm that is easy and fast," Bhardwaj told the audience. "It's all about the flow."
As a byproduct of the new touch-screen user interface, the flagship BlackBerry keyboard also is undergoing a makeover. RIM's longtime physical keyboard will go buttonless and "virtual" with BlackBerry 10, spurring a touch-screen typing experience similar to that of the iPhone. The revised keyboard also comes equipped with new time-saving tricks, such as swiping backward across it to delete and swiping downward to access numbers and symbols.
Integrated modeling algorithms are also included to pinpoint where users make contact with each key. It's designed to give users a personal typing experience that fits "like a glove," Heins said.
New camera functionality is being introduced with BlackBerry 10 as well. Bhardwaj demonstrated how users will be able to snap a picture and then "go back in time" to view various frames of a single shot. So, for instance, if the subject of a photo has his or her eyes closed in a shot, users can choose to revert back to a frame captured just milliseconds earlier when his or her eyes were opened.
"It's all about a technology that never allows you to miss a magic moment," Bhardwaj said of the new camera.
NEXT: Building Up RIM's App Offerings
In an effort to start building up a more robust app ecosystem for BlackBerry 10, RIM offered every developer in the audience a prototype device, which it called the BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha, running a beta version of the software.
Heins stressed to developers that the software they would see is not a final product but said that BlackBerry 10 is still on track to launch later this year and RIM is meeting all of its development milestones.
"This is not the full box yet that we have disclosed to you," he said. "But gives you an idea of what this platform is capable of."
Today, RIM's app offerings pale in comparison to those from Apple and Google. According to mobile market researcher Mobilewalla, Apple's iOS platform hosts more than 600,000 apps, while Google’s Android has about 350,000. RIM has 125,000.
But the company did emphasize Tuesday its aim of growing this number before the launch of BlackBerry 10, and said its Dev Alpha devices were intended to give developers a head start.
"We are 100 percent committed to the application partners on our platform," said Martyn Mallick, vice president of global alliances and business development at RIM, who took the stage after Heins and Bhardwaj. "We know enabling your success drives our success."
RIM in March reported a loss of $125 million for its fourth-quarter fiscal earnings, as its BlackBerry shipments continued to wane. Heins pointed to BlackBerry 10 as the company’s best shot at signing on new users and ensuring the loyalty of its traditional enterprise customer base.
"I'm confident in our future and look forward to delivering on our commitments with each and every one of you," he said Tuesday.