BlackBerry 7.1 update unlocks NFC, FM radio and BBM

The BlackBerry 7.1 update brings new NFC features, unlocks your FM radio and adds new goodies to BlackBerry Messenger.

BlackBerry phones are getting a fistful of new features. They're updating to BlackBerry 7.1, which brings with it new NFC features, unlocks your FM radio and adds new goodies to BlackBerry Messenger.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has unveiled the new BlackBerry 7.1 operating system at CES this week, alongside updates to the BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry Traffic and BlackBerry Travel apps.

New features include BlackBerry Tag, which lets you tap your BlackBerry against another to start a BBM conversation, swap contact information, or share files, links, photos and videos. Both phones need to have near-field communication (NFC) built-in, like the recent BlackBerry Curve 9360 and BlackBerry Bold 9900.

The update also adds auto-suggest to Bing web search, and BlackBerry Maps now offers local deals.

If you own a BlackBerry Curve 9360 or BlackBerry Curve Touch 9380, the update unlocks the secret FM radio built-in to your phone. A new radio app will appear on your phone -- simply fire it up and you're listening to the radio.

Your BlackBerry smart phone can function as a mobile hotspot, which up to five other phones, laptops and tablets can connect to and borrow the Internet connection.

The popular BlackBerry Messenger app also gets an overhaul. Version 6.1 of BBM adds animated GIFs to bring your avatar to life, or you can use a picture snapped by your phone. The space for your bio text in your profile is now up to 160 characters, more than double the length previously offered.

There's also a range of new emoticons, and you can change the colour of the chat bubbles.

The new BlackBerry Traffic app introduced today determines your estimated time of arrival at your destination based on current traffic conditions, and includes hands-free turn-by-turn voice guidance.

And the new BlackBerry Travel helps you plan a holiday, storing all the important information once you've booked everything. It automatically keeps track of your bookings to notify you if your flight is delayed or cancelled, and lets you search for an alternative flight straight away.

The software for the BlackBerry PlayBook is also updating, adding tabs to have more than one email open at the same time, and turning your BlackBerry phone into a remote control for the PlayBook.

The next major update to the BlackBerry OS will be BlackBerry 10, but as we don't yet have a date for that it's not clear whether we'll get a BlackBerry 8 or 9 in the meantime. The struggling RIM is due a shot in the arm, so let's hope BB10 doesn't hang about.

The updated BBM, BlackBerry Traffic and BlackBerry Travel apps are available today in the BlackBerry App World. BlackBerry 7.1 will begin landing on phones from today and over the coming weeks.

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