BlackBerry 10 launches with comeback hopes

The new OS brings a much needed refresh to the BlackBerry platform

With its future in the balance, the company until now known as Research In Motion launched its new BlackBerry 10 operating system, two new handsets and a new company name.

The new operating system brings the BlackBerry platform a desperately needed update and helps put it on the same functional level as Apple's iOS, Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Phone 8. But after falling behind for a couple of years, the big question is whether the company can catch up.

"Today represents a new day in the history of BlackBerry," said Thorsten Heins, CEO of BlackBerry, in front of an audience of journalists and analysts in New York. The company used the event to reveal its name change from Research In Motion.

"Two years ago, we had to make a very serious decision: adopt somebody else's platform or build a whole new one," he said. "And we made the tough call to go it alone."

BlackBerry based the new operating system on QNX, a real-time OS that it acquired in 2010.

At the heart of the new platform is the BlackBerry Hub, a message center that brings together email, Twitter and Facebook messages, BlackBerry messaging, and just about any other means of communication. The hub is accessible from anywhere within the phone with a rightward swipe of a finger.

It goes beyond a notification center or icons by providing direct access to incoming messages without launching external applications. And users can also respond to messages from within the hub. It's intended as a time-saver and serves as proof that RIM continues to see fast and efficient messaging as a key concern of its target users.

BlackBerry's core messaging platform, BBM, is also getting an upgrade with the addition of video chat. The same system also makes screen sharing possible, in which one BlackBerry user can share their screen with another user via a BBM session.

And in a nod to corporate users, RIM's most stalwart customers, there's BlackBerry Balance. It divides the phone into personal and work sides, with a company able to set policies and maintain security on the work side of the phone, but allowing the user freedom on the personal side. A virtual firewall between the two sides means confidential corporate data can't be copied or shared to the personal side.

Underpinning the new platform will be around 70,000 applications -- what BlackBerry says is the largest launch lineup of any smartphone platform. The number is largely thanks to incentives offered to application developers to port their software to the BlackBerry 10.

RIM revolutionized mobile messaging with its BlackBerry handsets and is hoping it can regain some of that momentum with Wednesday's launch.

The launch handset lineup will consist of two phones: the BlackBerry Z10 and the Q10. The Z10 is a touchscreen handset and the Q10 features the familiar BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard.

On the Z10, users will type on a virtual keyboard that features an innovative interface. As words are spelled out, the system predicts likely words and they appear above keys on the keyboard. Users can select words with a flicking motion that sends them toward the text being typed. Because the predicted words appear above keys, users don't have to move their thumbs to a separate area of the keyboard and can type more quickly.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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