The official skinny on RIM's BlackBerry OS 6

After months of teasing us with videos showcasing its next operating system, RIM finally releases official specs for BlackBerry OS 6, which will debut on the BlackBerry Torch later this month.

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BlackBerry phone with OS 6

BlackBerry maker RIM officially announced BlackBerry 6 on Tuesday, alongside the company's unveiling of the BlackBerry Torch smartphone.

In fact, BlackBerry 6, RIM's newest operating system, will debut on the BlackBerry Torch. It will be available exclusively from AT&T starting August 12. In addition, BlackBerry 6 will also have backward compatibility for select BlackBerry smartphones, quite probably the BlackBerry Bold 9700, BlackBerry Bold 9650, and the BlackBerry Pearl 3G. Of course, the BlackBerry OS 6 upgrade to those devices and others will be subject to carrier certifications in the ensuing months. RIM has not named specific roll-out dates.

The system improvements and additions found in BlackBerry 6 are no secret, as RIM has been plentifully releasing "sneak peek" videos ever since RIM first announced the new version of its operating system at the WES conference last April.

RIM's official word on the matter is what we expected, with lots of goodies that so far look like a significant improvement to the current OS. CNET Senior Editor Bonnie Cha gives her first impressions here and in the slideshow below. Also stay tuned for her full BlackBerry Torch review.

RIM BlackBerry Torch hands-on (photos)

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The interface has been refreshed for devices with touch screens or trackpads. The home screen lets users swipe a ribbon to filter applications and content by five categories (All, Favorites, Media, Downloads, and Frequent). You can also add shortcuts to contacts and favorite Web pages to the home screen. Action Menus, another addition, pop up common tasks when you press and hold with your finger or the trackpad. Multitasking has also gotten a makeover, with a visual grid of running applications popping up when you press and hold the Menu button.

We're most excited by the Universal Search bar on the home screen, which will simultaneously look for keyword matches to your search term in the phone memory, BlackBerry App World application storefront, and the Web.

WebKit browser
RIM has received plenty of guff over the years for its laggy browsers. BlackBerry 6 changes this by picking up a variant of the WebKit standard that powers both the Apple iPhone and Google Android browsers. (In fact, the BlackBerry Torch is named in honor of Torch Mobile, the browser company RIM acquired a year ago for this purpose.) The new BlackBerry browser will support HTML5 standards, but there was no word on Flash support. We can look forward to browser tabs, text-wrapping, and pinch to zoom.

Album art and syncing are the main themes for the BlackBerry 6's improved multimedia tools. RIM's complementary desktop app, BlackBerry Desktop Software 6, will sync photos, videos, and music wirelessly over Wi-Fi or via a USB cable. It will support iTunes and the Windows Media Player. BlackBerry Desktop Software 6 was released as a Windows beta in late July.

The BlackBerry camera will also add or enhance camera modes to improve editing, organizing, and sharing photos. In addition, a new Podcasts application serves the purpose of discovering and subscribing to audio and video podcasts. A YouTube app will come preloaded on phones with BlackBerry 6.

Texting and social networking
RIM introduces threaded text messages in BlackBerry 6, as well as provisions for sharing photos and videos through MMS (multimedia messages.)

On the social side, the BlackBerry 6 OS adds a Social Feeds app to aggregate social networking accounts and RSS feeds, including BlackBerry Messenger (known as BBM), Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, AOL Instant Messenger, Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger. You'll be able to post status updates across networks.

RIM has one more announcement in addition to the operating system and BlackBerry Torch smartphone news. It's also releasing a new SDK (software development kit) for BlackBerry 6, so developers can get a start creating OS-specific apps and updates that tie into new features such as Universal Search. BlackBerry 6 OS will be compatible with all existing BlackBerry apps, according to RIM CTO David Yach.