BlackBerry 10 Unveiled, Beta Developer Kit and Handset Ready To Go

New Research in Motion CEO Thorsten Heins had big news today at the BlackBerry World conference in Orlando, Florida – a first look at the highly anticipated BlackBerry 10 operating system, and the announcement that a beta developer kit is now available for the development community to use and explore.

The sneak peek video that Heins showed off suggests that using BlackBerry 10 will be a real drag – in a good way. Calls can be answered or rejected by dragging up or down. More interestingly, it looks like BB10’s touch keyboard will feature text completion – after typing a letter, commonly used words will pop up over other letters on the keyboard, corresponding to the next letter. For example, typing “a” will cause the word “again” to pop up over the “g” key, or the word “about” to pop up over the “b” key, and so on. Those words are selected by dragging up on the keyboard letter, rather than pressing on the words themselves, which looks like it will be a much more user-friendly method.

BlackBerry 10 will still be business focused, and part of that means having a solid multitasking system. It looks like the new OS will have that. Dragging from left to right will reveal other apps running in the background, which will be shown as previews, rather than as a list. Like most “multitasking” features of mobile devices, it doesn’t really constitute multitasking as most understand it, but so far, BB10’s dragging system appears to be about as good as you can reasonably hope for on a smartphone right now, and it looks very user-friendly and cleanly presented.

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We’re sure BlackBerry 10 is packing in a lot more as-of-yet unspoken features, but the bulk of the announcement wasn’t directed at consumers. RIM announced a host of developer kits for the new OS. The BlackBerry 10 Native SDK with Cascades, which is designed to make coding a little simpler while giving access to APIs that allow for integration of features like push or in-app payments. The BlackBerry 10 WebWorks SDK will allow developers to code apps using HTML5 and CSS, and includes support for JavaScript.

RIM is touting wide enthusiasm for its fledgling OS, citing early support from Endomondo, creator of the Endomondo Sports Tracker, and serial game developer Gameloft. Leadership from Truphone, Mippin, and PixelMags also lent kind words about the BlackBerry 10 developer kit, showering BlackBerry 10 with praise in the process. You can check out their comments in full in the press release below.

Lastly, RIM showed off the BlackBerry 10 Alpha device, though “showed off” might not be the right phrase, at least if you’re a consumer. The phone’s specs don’t look too bad, owing mostly to an impressive 4.2” 1280 x 768 resolution touchscreen. That said, if you’re looking at the picture above and either picking up a pitchfork or bowing down in praise, you need to stop. The device is only for developers, to aid in the app development and testing process. What the finished product(s) will look like is anyone’s guess, though with the new touch keyboard features, one could imagine that the flagship BB10 device will not have a physical keyboard. It’s doubtful RIM will get away from the physical keyboard completely, but from what little they have shown of BB10, it appears as if RIM is going to try to compete more directly with Apple and Google.

We’re still going to need a lot more information from RIM before we can get a sense of whether or not BlackBerry 10 will be the messiah the beleaguered company expects it to be. Granted, RIM is still doing well enough in international markets, but there’s no question that it’s ailing in the United States. Can BlackBerry 10 wrangle users away from Apple and Google while making sure that existing customers don’t jump ship in the process? Hard to say just yet, but one thing is for sure – that’s an awfully tall order.


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