What is BlackBerry OS?

A guide to RIM's BlackBerry operating system for smartphones

BlackBerry OS is RIM's (short for Research in Motion) mobile operating system that runs specifically on BlackBerry phones. It also powers the company's tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook.

Unlike iPhone, Android phones and Windows Phones, the BlackBerry OS is used on many non-touchscreen phones and some phones that have both a touchscreen and a physical, QWERTY keyboard. Therefore, the user interface of the BlackBerry OS differs between particular devices — input can centre around a trackball, a trackpad and/or a touchscreen where simple gestures are used to interact with the software.

What is a BlackBerry?

A BlackBerry is a line of smartphones produced by Canadian company RIM. The core function of a BlackBerry smartphone is primarily sending and receiving e-mail. The BlackBerry is widely regarded as the world's best and most efficient mobile device for business and corporate e-mail, though since the popularity of iPhone and Android phones, BlackBerry smartphones aren't as popular as they were in the past.

The first traditional BlackBerry phone was released in 2003. Early BlackBerry phones consisted of a small, non-touchscreen with a physical QWERTY keyboard which made it easy to type long blocks of text. Current BlackBerry models combine a touchscreen with a physical keyboard, though some have done away with a keyboard to include a full touchscreen.

What is included on a BlackBerry?

Every BlackBerry comes pre-loaded with a range of apps and services. The most notable aspect of a BlackBerry phone is the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) which is the service for corporate users that enables push e-mail. For non corporate users, a BlackBerry smartphone requires the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS). This allows the average consumer to access e-mail and data services on the phone. A BlackBerry smartphone will not work without either a BES or a BIS — the latter is operated by your carrier, while a BES is operated by a company or corporate network.

BlackBerry smartphones also include access to the BlackBerry Messenger service, also known as BBM. This service allows BlackBerry users to send instant messages, notes, images and short video clips to one another using BlackBerry data. BlackBerry phones will also include basic smartphone functions like a mobile Web browser, a music and video player and access to BlackBerry App World for third-party apps.

What is BlackBerry App World?

BlackBerry App World is RIM's application distribution platform for the BlackBerry OS. BlackBerry App World is pre-loaded on every BlackBerry smartphone and both free and paid apps are available. Examples of apps can include anything from games to more business orientated functions like document editors and productivity tools.

Unlike the Android platform, developers who create applications for BlackBerry devices have less flexibility and must adhere to guidelines. Every BlackBerry application goes through an approval process before it is made available for distribution through App World.

BlackBerry software updates

RIM constantly improves the BlackBerry OS platform in what is called a software update. On average, the BlackBerry platform is updated once a year, though there are often additional, minor updates throughout the year. Each software update provides new features, enhancements and improvements.

For BlackBerry smartphones integrated within an enterprise through a BES, a new software update will be pushed out through the business or corporate server. For consumer users, the software can be downloaded through a PC or Mac, so you will need to plug your phone into your computer to receive the update.

Many factors influence when you'll receive a BlackBerry update, including which model you have (some older models don't support newer software), which carrier provides your mobile service and whether your BlackBerry is connected to a BES or a BIS.

The latest version of the BlackBerry OS software is 7.1, though the upcoming 10 version will support both tablets and new BlackBerry smartphones. New features include the ability to share your BlackBerry Internet connection through via a wireless hotspot, an auto-suggest search feature and the ability to make phone calls over a Wi-Fi network rather than through your carrier.

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Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

PC World
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