Smartphones

BlackBerry 6: The top six new features

Research in Motion released more information this week about its overhaul to the BlackBerry mobile OS. Here are the six most important developments in BlackBerry 6.

Research in Motion released more information this week about its upcoming overhaul to the BlackBerry mobile OS. BlackBerry 6 is scheduled to arrive by the end of the third quarter, and right now it can't come fast enough for the veteran smartphone maker.

New research released this week revealed a double whammy for RIM: Fewer buyers are planning to purchase a BlackBerry and customer satisfaction with BlackBerry has dropped off a cliff. That's a bitter pill to swallow when you consider that BlackBerry was ranked number one in customer satisfaction by J.D. Power and Associates in 2007 -- the year Apple first released the iPhone.

While BlackBerry remains the overall leader in smartphone market share in the U.S., iPhone and Google Android have stolen away all of the momentum with touchscreen devices that are much easier to use, much better for browsing the Web, and offer better third-party apps.

That's what BlackBerry is up against and those are some of the areas where the platform is trying to catch up with the next release. Take a look at the latest video demo of BlackBerry 6 that RIM has released to see how much ground you think they're making up. Then, read my list below of the top six new developments to watch for in OS 6.

1. Multi-touch interface

The screen resolution shown in the video demo above is 360x480, which is the current resolution of the BlackBerry Storm. The demo itself also extensively makes use of a multi-touch interface and a touchscreen keyboard, which makes it appear that BlackBerry is likely to use touchscreens on all future models.

That doesn't mean BlackBerry's signature hardware keyboard will go away. The widely-rumored BlackBerry 9800 (likely to be called the BlackBerry Torch) features a full touchscreen like the Storm but also includes a slide down keyboard, similar to the Palm Pre. It appears likely that BlackBerry will move to two primary product lines -- one with touchscreen-only (Storm) and one with a touchscreen plus a slide-down qwerty (Torch).

2. Webkit browser

The current Web browsing experience on BlackBerry is slow, difficult to navigate, and frustrating. That's why RIM bought Torch Mobile last year and decided to revamp its Web experience using Torch Mobile's WebKit browser. As shown in the video above, the new BlackBerry browser now offers pinch-to-zoom and touchscreen scrolling. That will be great for touchscreen models, and could bring BlackBerry browsing up to speed with iPhone and Android, but the bigger question is how will the new Webkit browser affect existing BlackBerry smartphones? Will they not get the upgrade?

3. Redesigned home screen

The classic BlackBerry home screen has one row of five to six icons and then you hit the BlackBerry key to see the rest of your apps. The new BlackBerry 6 home screen has two rows of four apps each and then you use the touchscreen to swipe left or right to see different groups of apps.

4. Universal search

Following the lead of Palm webOS and iPhone, BlackBerry 6 will offer an all-device search that will help you find mail messages, contacts, apps, songs, videos, etc. And it will let you extend the search out to the Web if what you're searching for isn't on the device itself.

5. Context-sensitive menus

The BlackBerry key has always served as a menu button to provide additional options (kind of like right-click on a PC). BlackBerry 6 extends that concept into the touch interface. For example, you can touch a person's name and you'll get a pop-up contact menu that will then allow you to quickly call, text, IM, or email that person. In other places you'll be able to touch items on the screen to get more info, configure, or navigate. This should make BlackBerry more intuitive and solve the current headache of having to dig through lots of menus and options to perform simple tasks.

6. Social tools

BlackBerry has already worked with Facebook and Twitter to build solid apps for the BlackBerry platform, but in OS 6, BlackBerry is building some social hooks into the platform itself. With its new Social Feeds app, for example, it will let you post status updates to multiple social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). That app will also allow you to view updates from your contacts across multiple social networks in one place.

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

29 comments
vysakh.i
vysakh.i

The legend in smartphone business has suffered a major setback in sales (http://money.cnn.com/2011/09/16/technology/rimm_earnings/index.htm) owing to the grand entry of iPhone and devices running on Android. The new OS rolled down by RIM should definitely do the trick for them. Reviews also tell us that the first impression of the new Curve running on OS 6 has been promising but to keep up with its competitors RIM really needs a winner here which is not the new OS 6.

eddyrox1
eddyrox1

looks very similar to what is out there already.. and the menu interface... why does it remind me of the zune/metro interface? even the presentation is very similar to the windows phone demo on the winpho7 website... not impressed. good stuff. but not impressed. i need to see more.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

As long as that works it will be a winner!

JH_Chicago_Suburbs
JH_Chicago_Suburbs

Personally, don't care at all about touchscreens because my fine motor skills have never been any good. Used BlackBerry Curve for six months and thought that the keyboard was good for something so small but thought that the user interface was very smart for how it laid out options to minimize scrolling. The other features sound very useful.

lalitstar
lalitstar

Blackberry has lost its lead. It has stumbled a numerous times, while its competitors- Apple & Android (esp HTC) are making successful runs-after-runs. Why would people go for Blackberry now after knowing that their iPhone-killer Storm turned to be wind-in-cup? People look at the smartphone as overall handy device- camera, portable music player, web browser, app-store...and RIM lacks expertise in each of these dept!

gsveeb
gsveeb

Blackberry needs to increase the size of the file system where the applications are installed. This is one of the biggest drawbacks of the OS, the number of applications you can install is severely limited. Don't know whether this is a hardware or software limitation, but it needs to change. Allow apps to be installed and run from the SIM card if possible.

djetsons
djetsons

Where would the new blackberry6 rate against the other smartphones like iphone4, droidx, htc evo4g and the incredible?

johansel
johansel

but the BB6 it's only by the BB use touch screen technology???

rajesh_raja_in_2000
rajesh_raja_in_2000

Will current BB users having OS 5.0.0.713 get free upgrade to OS 6 on Storm2?

g_r_i_m_s
g_r_i_m_s

Looks like a step in the right direction. Lets hope that the OS update will be available for all current users and we will not have to by a new piece of hardware.

jhiner
jhiner

Blackberry has stated that Blackberry6 will be available to the Storm2(9550) but not the Storm(9530).

tbostwick
tbostwick

Heard rumors on CrackBerry that new hardware won't be required, that the update will be retroactive but require "backup" of data before the update is done (makes logical sense). I've heard there will be a model limit as to which ones WILL and which ones WON'T (IE> Storm I (no) but yes to Stoem II, for example) Let's see -RIM would do well to make it as "Backwards" as they can possibly go.

tbostwick
tbostwick

About time - and hopefully not too late. For the Enterprise and "security" minded, BB is still the way to go. Glad to hear of the upcoming feature in 6, but my points on whether it's worthy or not are based on: 1> Is the OS6 going to be usable on current (older) BB devices, or only on the newer platforms 2> Will the "upgrade" cost anything,since it's literally a revamped/new OS - not just a patch? 3> Will RIM stick to their rollout - which seems to change? 4> Who's going to carry the new line of phones (Storm and Torch?)? Hopefully Verizon and the rest really don't matter - Verizon has the best plans and hands-down coverage in the US. Now's the time - with the problems with the iPhone4 -BB can regain some of the momentum they've lost by waiting too long for an app store, better phones, and user-intuitiveness

ITOdeed
ITOdeed

The iPhone is a media phone, and the BB is a business phone. Since sync for business is the reason I use a BB, I'll keep using BB devices until another company shows me it has better sync. iPhone is cool, but flawed.

tallachoo
tallachoo

..will I purchase a BB. I have the Storm and it has been the worst piece of hardware I have ever owned. It has been replaced 6 times now and my provider still will not allow me a new phone. The 5.0 software is still garbage, apps are a waste and outdated, the entire phone is slow, crashes and needs 2 battery pulls every day. I don't care how many advancements they make in OS 6, they have lost and they are way too far behind the curve to catch up. I would get an iPhone if I could, otherwise I'm going Linux, excuse me, Open source, wait..Android. BlackBerry - you lost, just give up already.

chris.green
chris.green

As a long time berry user I went to an iphone about 4 months ago, after a lot of frustration with the email sync not being as good as a BB I am going back to a berry and ditching the iphone. This update can only help people see that for business use the iphone doesnt really cut it for the roadwarrior. (dont even mention the mobile signal strength issue and not just on the 4)

su3264
su3264

So tell me this: is this an iPhone for all those who have spent year saying they wouldn't be seen dead using Apple? Just a thought...

FredJ
FredJ

I think they're a bit behind the eight ball. What draws people to the Droids and iPhones are the apps and the ability to customize. Seriously all smartphones have the capability for e-mail but folks like options and a lot of free apps in the Droid environment. Just my two cents.

waltc
waltc

Until Blackberry incorporates ActiveSync into it's OS, I won't be using it and won't be recommending it to my clients.

creepingdeth
creepingdeth

Is it due to Hardware constraints or what? I've been hoping and waiting for OS 6 so that I would have a better OS for the Storm (9350). I'm definitely going to either the new Droid X or Droid (version 2). To me it has all the apps to be a business type smartphone as well as all the cool media features of the iPhone.

BGunnells
BGunnells

"Verizon has the best plans and hands-down coverage in the US." No question they have the best coverage, but they're very proud of that fact. I was recently looking at switching carriers, and was absolutely flabbergasted at the rates Verizon wanted to charge me! Similar plans from other providers are MUCH less expensive. To say that "Verizon has the best plans" is a bit of a stretch, IMHO... -=B

tbostwick
tbostwick

Agreed - BB for business/enterprise (security alone wins this award for BB) IPhone and Andriod - stricktly media phones - and all those apps - what a waste!!! (at least most of them)

tbostwick
tbostwick

The point on iPhone and signal is the BIGGEST reason why I won't move to Apple over BB. I cannot get signal for running ALL those apps for iPhone - and we're talking all the major cities in the Midwest and everywhere in between. So, if BB and iPhone are competing on "usability" BB wins! Email is a cinch and you can add multiple accounts effortlessly. Add the qwerty keyobard they're proposing and I'll be in line to get my new BB soon. iPhone - nice design, intuitive - but don't drop you or lose that 3G/4G signal while "apping" your way to the ice cream stand in the desert

billekillten
billekillten

Well Sonaly, I would kind of have to disagree with you to an extent. I think that the 2007 first generation would be a better competetor, not necessarily better. Pro Cleanse Gold

shollida
shollida

We really need to get past this "fanbois" "haters" craziness. Does the freakin device work for you or not? Buy it, or not, and move on. thank you.

tbostwick
tbostwick

Just an FYI that ActiveSync will remain until M$ is out of the mobile market - which may be sooner rather than later. Their "new" OS is clunky, far behind Droid, iPhone and even BB. They're behind the times, with features like GoogleSync and other tools that "sync" up files from phones to PC's and back on around. FYI - If you're still using a M$ mobile phone - make the leap now, get your data converted - because the days are numbered when we'll no longer see M$ Mobile products.

brending
brending

Totally agree. Enough of the fan boys

ScottyUK
ScottyUK

... I wish I had one. In the past our requirement has been that if you want to use 'push' you get a WM device as it should be more aligned to the back-end. We're currently renewing our mobile contract and given the limited choice of pretty average handsets knocking about we've had to give in and allow iPhones. If M$ do exit the mobile market, might they then decide to take the ActiveSync protocols with them on their next Exchange version? I can't see it myself as it would just hand back control of the market back to RIM's push model. M$ need to step up to the plate and offer a viable platform. So therefore, I wait with interest to see what the situation is two years down the line and whether there are any compelling reasons to jump off the Apple train we have been caught up on.

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