Up close with BlackBerry 10

Once the king of the smartphone world, Research In Motion now struggles to stay in the game. The Canadian company has spent the last two years seeing its share of the smartphone market fall to the point where RIM’s future now depends heavily on its upcoming BlackBerry 10 operating system.

Blackberry 10 Home Screen
Blackberry 10's homescreen, displaying running apps

At this year’s BlackBerry Jam Americas (formerly the BlackBerry Developer’s Conference), RIM showed off the latest build of its BlackBerry 10 platform and highlighted the features it hopes will help set the BlackBerry OS apart from the competition. BlackBerry 10 modernizes the BlackBerry OS by being much more touch-friendly than previous versions, completely doing away with the physical keyboard in favor of a virtual one.

App icons in BB10 are presented in a grid, much like what you see on iOS and Android devices; you can use gestures to minimize and navigate between open applications. When you minimize an app, it gets put into a “running apps page” where you can see a live preview of that application and close apps you are no longer using.

BlackBerry 10 adopts a grid-like interface for app icons and depends on gesture-based controls.

Multitasking in BB10 works a lot like multitasking in Apple’s iOS: When you minimize an app in BlackBerry 10, it gets suspended until you open it up again. So while you won’t be able to browse Twitter while your webpage loads, this type of multitasking won’t be as taxing on your battery life and should prove useful if you want to quickly jump into an app without losing your place in another.

One of BB10’s most promising features has to be its universal inbox, dubbed the “BlackBerry Hub.” Here you can see all of your emails, texts, BBMs, and notifications from your various social networks, and you can access the Hub at any time—even while in another app—with a simple gesture. On the demo unit I saw, the presenter was able to quickly reply to a Facebook message, check his text messages, and see his latest Twitter replies without having to leave the Hub. It sounds great for social butterflies who are heavy into social media and never want to be out of touch with their networks.

Blackberry 10 Browser
Blackberry 10's improved browser

Other updates in BlackBerry 10 include an improved browser that is better at handling HTML5, a new Contacts app that syncs with your social networks, and a new App World store that makes it easier to find apps and will sell other media like music and TV shows.

The build I saw this week was still very much under development, but it looked good and seemed to be relatively bug free. RIM is really pulling out all of the stops for BlackBerry 10, though I worry that waiting until 2013 to release the update may end up killing the OS before it even has a chance to come to market. The smartphone industry moves at an incredible pace, and while 2013 may only be a few months away, a lot can change between now and then. The OS looks good, now RIM just needs to find some top-flight hardware to run it, keeping up the interest in BB10 going until it’s ready for release.

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