BlackBerry 6.1: Six new features in RIM's upcoming mobile OS

CIO.com's Al Sacco highlights six noteworthy new features in the next version of RIM's mobile OS, BlackBerry 6.1, which should ship with new smartphones later this year.

BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) released the first BlackBerry smartphone running its "BlackBerry 6" mobile OS just six months ago, but the company is already hard at work on the next major BlackBerry OS device software update, BlackBerry 6.1.

Thanks to a wealth of information posted yesterday on CrackBerry.com, we now have a fairly clear look at a number of cool new feature and enhancements RIM plans to include in BlackBerry OS 6.1 when it ships along with a few as-of-yet unannounced BlackBerry devices, likely later this year. (It's not clear whether or not current or existing BlackBerry device models will get BlackBerry 6.1 upgrades, but since many of the new features require newer, stronger hardware, it seems unlikely.)

Those upcoming devices include the first touch-screen BlackBerry Bolds: the codenamed BlackBerry "Dakota" (GSM version) and the BlackBerry "Montana" (CDMA variant); and the BlackBerry "Monaco Touch," a.k.a. the Storm 3.

Keep moving for a breakdown of six of the coolest features in the upcoming BlackBerry 6.1 mobile OS.

(Note: One of the leaked slides that detail upcoming BlackBerry devices includes a reference to the "BlackBerry 6.1 Lite" OS. It's unclear what exactly the term "Lite" means at this point or if the software differs from the full BlackBerry 6.1 OS. But the Lite OS could lack the full feature set found in the complete version of BlackBerry 6.1. So the device that will reportedly run BlackBerry 6.1 Lite, the BlackBerry Curve "Sedona," may not offer the same range of functionality as its BlackBerry 6.1 counterparts.)

1) Sharper User Experience in BlackBerry 6.1

BlackBerry 6.1 will pack a brand new "Liquid Graphics" feature meant to enhance and makeover the BlackBerry user experience.

The BlackBerry 6.1 Liquid Graphics features is designed "to optimize the Graphics pipeline and BlackBerry Java Applications to offers significant increases in frames per second performance with instant UI action/response, fluid animations, etc..."

And BlackBerry Liquid Graphics in BlackBerry 6.1 mean users will see high-resolution graphics support, up to 24 bit color, across all applications. And the features should also reduce system strain, which results in UI lag and latency.

2) Enhanced Web Browser in BlackBerry OS 6.1

RIM's upcoming BlackBerry smartphones will pack much more powerful processors and other hardware, and that beefed up equipment will enable much improved Web browsing via the BlackBerry WebKit browser, among other things, according to the leaked slides.

More specifically, BlackBerry OS 6.1 packs accelerated JavaScript performance; expanded HTML 5 support with new support for Canvas, App Cache, Geolocation and HTML 5 video; and much improved mobile video viewing capabilities due to HTML video tag support and codecs.

3) Suped-up Search and Multitasking in BlackBerry 6.1 OS

RIM added a cool, new universal search feature to BlackBerry 6 earlier this year, and company is building on the idea with new, voice-enabled search in future versions of the BlackBerry OS. It's unclear whether or not BlackBerry 6.1 will get voice-search or if the feature will be added to later versions. But RIM is working to at least improve universal search in BlackBerry 6.1, according to the slides. Those improvements will be made via the addition of voice features at some point, along with an improved look and feel with a focus on making the search field stand out. And RIM's also working to improve the quality of results for both local, or on-device, and extended search, i.e., Web searches.

4) Enhanced Personalization/Customization Options in BlackBerry 6.1

RIM's BlackBerry 6.1 mobile OS will feature enhanced and expanded home-screen customization options, including the ability to manage/delete home-screen panes, for a custom UI experience. And BlackBerry users will also be able to hide formerly-fixed icons to do away with duplicate icons on separate panes, according to the leaked slides.

5) Revamped Virtual Keyboard for Touch Screen Devices

RIM's 2011 device lineup features a number of new touch-screen devices. The company is clearly focusing more on touch in 2011 than it has in the past, and it's building on and bolstering its touch-screen "virtual" keyboard accordingly.

BlackBerry 6.1 is designed to improve the intuitiveness and ease of use of the BlackBerry on-screen virtual keyboard via a variety of enhancements, including one single key for access to both numbers and symbols while in alphabetical mode; "sticky" numbers/symbols screens that remain until the ABC/alphabetical key is hit to return to letters; better on-screen visuals to represent when you're temporarily on a numbers/symbols/etc screen; and a new "hide bar" to make it easier and faster to hide the virtual keyboard when it's not needed.

6) Stronger Focus on Easy BlackBerry Setup, Tutorials for New Users

BlackBerry 6 brought a number of valuable features to help new BlackBerry users setup and customize their smartphones, and BlackBerry 6.1 will build on this foundation with new tutorials and step-by-step how-tos to help BlackBerry "newbies" get the most out of their feature-packed devices.

The leaked slide don't provide any more details, but you can bet RIM will include more video tutorials on more subjects, to show new users how to setup and use BlackBerry features and applications.

Pop on over to CrackBerry.com for a ton of additional information on BlackBerry 6.1 and other future editions of BlackBerry 6.xx, as well as specifications and details on BlackBerry 6.1 devices, including the new touch screen BlackBerry Bolds and Curve.

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Al Sacco

CIO (US)
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