RIM gives a sneak peek at key features of its forthcoming BlackBerry 10 OS -- are you excited?
No, this is not a jailbroken iPhone -- you're actually looking at the future of the BlackBerry. RIM has been giving a sneak peek at some of the flagship features in the next generation of its OS, BlackBerry 10 (BB10), at a media briefing in London today.
The hardware shown above is a developer-only handset, so all eyes on the software its running, which is a pre-release version of BB10 that will be powering a new wave of touchscreen-centric BlackBerrys, due later this year. Click through the photos in the gallery to see the highlights.
BB10 is all about bringing RIM kicking and screaming into a touch-centric mobile world but Qwerty-keyboard lovers shouldn't despair as some BB10 devices will pack a traditional plastic keyboards. Expect these to be hybrid touchscreen-plus-Qwerty handsets -- presumably along the lines of BlackBerry Bold 9790.
Vivek Bhardwaj, RIM's Head of Software Portfolio, said the BB10 interface is built around fluid gestures and swipes, rather than lots of individual taps to get into and out of different apps and functions. It is also being specifically designed to allow BlackBerry owners to get to the stuff they want by using just one hand or a single thumb, he said.
First up, the BB10 homescreen -- it's out with app icons, and in with four large panes which are full, active apps meaning they will change as their content changes. To fully dive into one of these homescreen apps you just tap on the relevant pane.
From this homescreen, swiping to the right takes you to a traditional icon-centric view app view, while swiping to the left brings up a unified inbox view which collates all your communications -- from emails and IM to calls, tweets, Facebook updates etc -- into one uber feed.
Bhardwaj said key gestures, such as swiping to the left to get to this one-stop-shop inbox, aren't restricted to the homescreen but can be deployed wherever you are in the OS.
The most distinctive gesture in BB10 is what Bhardwaj described as "a looking type gesture" or "glancing across" to other content off screen.
This gesture is triggered by holding your thumb down at the bottom right hand corner of the screen which shrinks the view, bringing up a margin at the right hand side where notifications are displayed. Swiping or dragging your thumb further to left brings even more content on screen -- such as your inbox, an attachment or an open app.
The point of the interface is to be fluid and efficient, said Bhardwaj, noting: "My finger didn't have to leave the screen."
Next up, Bhardwaj demoed the BB10 software keyboard. He said RIM has been spending a lot of time and effort trying to replicate the capabilities of its iconic plastic keyboards -- beloved by business folk and teenagers alike. The result is a software keyboard that has a distinctive Blackberry look and feel, with similar key spacing etc, but which also includes some smart software tweaks to ensure faster, more accurate virtual typing.
Firstly, to try and ensure the best possible keystroke and typing experience, BB10's software takes notes of where you place your fingers and thumbs on the virtual keyboard and then adjusts its register to minimise typos. If you tend to strike the top left hand corner of the T key when typing that letter it will learn your positioning and register it as perfect keystroke in future so typos are less likely.
The BB10 keyboard also learns the type of language you like to use so it can make an informed prediction of which word you're going to type next. A selection of predicted words appear above letters -- to type a word rather than a letter you simply swipe up and over the word you want.
When you start to use a BB10 device, Bhardwaj said RIM's software will scan your previous history -- looking at your emails, IMs, SMSes, Twitter and so on to "understand the type of words you use". This vocabulary is then fed into its fluency word prediction engine for the best guess at what you're trying to type. The result is a phone that tailors itself to its owner's hands and lingo, according to Bhardwaj.
The keyboard also supports additional gestures. Swiping down anywhere on the keyboard brings up the number view, and from there another down swipe brings up the symbol view. And swiping from right to left will start deleting words, rather than having to repeat tap the delete key.
"BlackBerry users are always busy," said Bhardwaj. "They need to be able to get out a quick message." He said RIM has worked with TouchType -- the company that makes the SwiftKey keyboard software for Android devices -- to help improve its virtual keyboard smarts.
Finally, Bhardwaj showed a video demo of a new camera feature that will be landing in BB10. The OS will include a burst mode to capture a sequence of photos -- a feature that has arrived in several Android phones, such as HTC's new One Series and Samsung Galaxy S3 -- however RIM is adding a neat editing interface to make it easier to create perfect group photos.
Once burst mode is turned on the camera starts capturing a sequence of photos but the user is encourage to snap a photo in the usual way. Individual faces in the image can then be edited to select the best overall shot -- either by rolling time back to before the shutter was pressed or forward to a few moments after, to correct for blinks or improve on grumpy looks.
Bhardwaj said the focus is on making everything really simple and easy to use -- and once again, BB10 relies on gestures (moving a slider around a clock-style face) to achieve this.
The time-shifting photo editor was not demoed on the developer device as it was not yet running on this pre-release version of the OS. "We're still designing the whole camera experience," noted Bhardwaj.
Devices running BlackBerry 10 are due to launch commercially later this year. The iPhone-esque handset RIM was using to demo BB10 is the Dev Alpha handset it gave to developers attending its BlackBerry World conference earlier this month -- and is purely intended as a testing device so expect something that looks a little more BlackBerry on the hardware side too.
Are you excited by the new look and feel of BB10? Tell us which is your favourite feature in the comments below or swipe on over to our Facebook wall.
The BlackBerry 10 homescreen shows four panes which are active apps -- tapping on a pane takes you to the app proper.