Executives at beleaguered smartphone vendor Research in Motion on Tuesday gave a peek at new features in the upcoming BlackBerry 10 operating system, and released updated development tools for an enthusiastic audience of BlackBerry programmers.
Executives hinted that the BlackBerry 10 operating system may be production-ready by year-end - the APIs to phone hardware and software features are now final -- and that the next generation of RIM smartphones using it may be ready early in the new year. The company has seen plummeting smartphone sales, especially in North America, as corporate users opt for Apple iPhones and iPads, and to a lesser degree mobile devices based on Google's Android operating system.
Speakers at the BlackBerry Jam Americas event, aimed at third-party and enterprise software developers, included RIM President and CEO Thorstein Heins, who's been on the job for just nine months.
Heins, and his subordinates, reiterated much of what they said at the company's annual user conference, BlackBerry World in May. At that time, they suggested that the new OS, based on the QNX real-time kernel acquired with RIM's 2010 buyout of QNX Software Systems in 2010, would be released with new smartphones sometime this fall. But RIM later announced it was delaying the release to early 2013 to give software engineers more time to get the OS right, and incorporate feedback from users and developers.
BlackBerry 10 is a complete break with the software that runs on standard BlackBerry smartphones. An earlier version currently running on RIM's tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook, eventually will be replaced with the same OS on the new smartphones.
At this week's event, Heins and Vivek Bhardwah, head of software portfolio for BlackBerry, demonstrated a bit more of the BlackBerry 10 user interface, using a prototype touch phone released earlier this year just for developers. They focused on a new gesture, dubbed BlackBerry Peek, that may well become iconic for the BlackBerry platform. The peek is created by pressing a thumb on the bottom of the touchscreen and then moving it up and to the right.
The gesture effectively "freezes" the application you're in, and moves it out of the way so you can see "underneath" it, to a context-sensitive starting point, in most cases what RIM calls the BlackBerry Hub. The Hub seems to be an integrated, and customizable, collection of contacts and notifications, spanning the user's communications channels such as email, chat, Facebook and other social networks.
You would peek under your existing app when a new red alert LED starts flashing to indicate a new email or post: you can release the app and deal with the message, or sweep your thumb back to restore the app you'd been working in. Officials stressed that apps in BlackBerry 10 are not suspended or shut down during this process: you begin where you left off, the state of your session preserved and active.