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RIM's demo of new BlackBerry impresses programmers, users

New UI design, real-time kernel provoke the ultimate praise: 'cool'

By , Network World
May 01, 2012 02:21 PM ET
RIM's BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha

Network World - RIM today gave a brief demonstration of its new mobile OS on an early prototype handset. And both represent a dramatic break from RIM's traditional BlackBerry heritage.

Some features of what will be BlackBerry 10 are already evident in the operating system for RIM's PlayBook tablet, since both platforms are based on software acquired by RIM -- the QNX realtime kernel -- and the UI engineering and design from The Astonishing Tribe (or TAT). But what was shown onstage today suggests that RIM is taking a new approach to keeping mobile users connected to the digital worlds they're creating online.

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IN PICTURES: A closer look at RIM's BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha smartphone

BB10 is still a work in progress and not scheduled for even beta release until later this year. But the demonstrations today sparked developer interest and praise and a word that must come as a relief to RIM executives: "cool."

Just three months into his new job as RIM's CEO, Thorsten Heins emceed the brief demos before a packed house of thousands of BlackBerry developers and users at BlackBerry World in Orlando.

The prototype device, called the BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha (pictured), looks essentially like a larger, early iPhone design. It offers developers only limited functions (for example, it's missing a cellular radio), and is intended only as an aid for software developers to start designing their applications. The units being passed out to developers at the companion BlackBerry 10 Jam conference actually include a version of the PlayBook's OS. RIM PR reps repeatedly stressed that Dev Alpha does not represent a template for the BB10 smartphones and software to be released later this year.

"It's working, and it works well," Heins said in the keynote, as he introduced the long-awaited demo to a supportive audience. "We're hitting the milestones we set ourselves."

"There is a whole new [user] paradigm out there," he said. "It's one that adapts to you, and gives you real-time information."

The initial start screen showed three large panels or cards, representing apps. There are no buttons, software or hardware, because as with PlayBook, the bezel is the starting point for specific gestures that trigger actions, such as sweeping up from the bottom to go back to the start screen. Moving a finger from one edge revealed a set of notifications. The demo showed how a user could overlay multiple layers of an app, moving into a messaging app or conversation and then into the details of a given thread. But the "edges" of the card are stacked, so the user can see all the levels in relationship to each other and move easily between them.

Heins said this approach creates a "flow" that lets users orient themselves, navigate and work with apps more easily and quickly.

The same demo also showed that BB10 real-time multitasking keeps all of the apps active and running. "You can take action on any [information] feed without popping in and out of different apps," Heins said.

The demo showed a new onscreen keyboard, with some startling changes. First, the look incorporates the metal frets, and big keys, that are distinctive on the traditional BlackBerry keyboard. The entire experience mimics, apparently effectively, the two-thumb typing pattern familiar to longtime users. And RIM's software engineers have worked to reduce latency, and added a series of algorithms so the keyboard learns and remembers the user's typing patterns.

As keys were pressed, the software guessed what the next word might mean. A flick of the thumb upward moved that word to the text field. Swiping from the side over the keyboard deletes an entire word.

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