Despite -- or rather thanks to -- major delays in releasing BlackBerry 10, RIM has let quite a bit slip about its upcoming operating system and related BB10 devices. We've had more than a year to absorb leaks, rumors and official information, after all, so it's no surprise that we have a very good idea of what to expect when Waterloo pulls back the curtain on January 30th. That doesn't mean things are as plain as day, though; the deluge of blurrycam shots and carrier screens have provided an almost indigestible amount of information about BB10, and we don't blame you if you can't keep the story straight. We're here to parse the madness, though, so read on to find out what to expect at tomorrow's launch event.
Touch keyboard with predictive input
The first BB10 handset likely won't sport a physical keyboard, but that doesn't mean you should expect a subpar typing experience. RIM's on-screen layout will boast quite a few enhancements to compete with SwiftKey and other similar input options. For instance, the company has demoed predictive typing; press on a letter, and a selection of likely words will hover over the corresponding character ("hey" when you hit H, for example). To pick one of the predicted words, you simply swipe up on it. The keyboard will learn and adapt to your linguistic habits, so you can expect more accurate suggestions over time. In addition to predictive input, the on-screen layout features intuitive gestures such as swiping to the left to delete text and swiping from the lower left to minimize the keyboard. Other gestures include swiping from the bottom to reveal numbers and special characters.
Timeline lens, camera filters
At BlackBerry World 2012, RIM showed us its take on fancy camera software: the "timeline lens," which uses Scalado's Rewind technology to capture frames even before you hit the shutter. This means you can cycle back through the shooter's cache if you miss an image by a second or two.
If The Gadget Masters website, which posted a hands-on video with a "pre-production Z10," is to be believed, we can also expect photo-editing software courtesy of Scalado, including Instagram-style filters and options such as transform, brightness / white balance adjustment, rotate and aspect ratio customization.
User interface with Peek, flow gestures
One of the most anticipated aspects of BlackBerry 10 is the user interface's focus on multitasking. The aptly named Peek feature, showcased at BlackBerry Jam last September, lets users view apps running in the background by simply swiping from the left or right. From there, users can either return to their previous task or swipe back to go into previously launched programs. At least in theory, this is meant to provide a more fluid app-switching experience than the task list à la webOS and Android.
Back in May, RIM officially previewed the BB10 home screen, which will include an app grid that displays all currently running programs. From here, swiping to the right will bring up the full launcher, and gesturing to the left will bring you to the unified inbox. Here as well, you can use Peek to view recent notifications and any currently running applications, and then swipe to backtrack to the main hub. Users can also minimize a given window to see new notifications. We also got a hands-on look at the UI in action when we met with RIM Principal Architect Gary Klassen last June -- check out our video.
Security features, BYOD
Historically, RIM's handsets have been almost synonymous with the BYOD (bring your own device) movement, so it's no surprise that BB10 devices will come with corporate-minded features on board. First off, the OS has FIP 140-2 certification, meaning it meets the security and encryption requirements of government agencies and enterprises.
BB10 devices will also have BlackBerry Balance, which partitions RIM's phones into separate work and personal profiles. To toggle between these two modes, you simply pull down from the app icon grid. You'll see different applications listed depending on which profile you're in, and you can run applications simultaneously in both profiles. For instance, you can have the browser open on the corporate side, and it will adhere to your IT desk's policies, and on the personal side it will run without these restrictions.
One of many tidbits we've gleaned from the leaked BB10 training manual is that RIM is promising some 70,000 QNX apps in the BlackBerry World store at launch. And indeed, Waterloo has been aggressively courting developers, offering a $10,000 guarantee for approved apps that make less than 10k in the first year. The company also held "Portathon" events to drum up app submissions with a cash incentive. One such contest netted 15,000 entries in less than 38 hours.
In addition to seeking new applications, RIM has invested time and money into securing the top names for its platform. Rest assured that a native Facebook app will be on board at launch, as will Foursquare. We also have good reason to believe that Google Talk and Twitter will be integrated into the unified inbox.
The all-touch BlackBerry Z10
Back in November, CEO Thorsten Heins told us that a full-touch device will be RIM's way of gaining back market share, as the company's smartphone success to date has been in the QWERTY category. Hence, the first BB10 device will feature an on-screen rather than a physical keyboard.
All signs point to the first flagship device being the full-touch BlackBerry Z10, a phone in the higher-end L-Series line. We've seen that model name come up repeatedly, in RIM marketing materials and most recently in a screen cap from Verizon's website.
Leaked specs for the Z10 match up quite closely with the BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha we first saw last May. Unveiled at BlackBerry World, the device sported a 4.2-inch, 1,280 x 768 display with 16GB of internal storage. Rumors and leaks about the Z10 have echoed that same set of specifications -- save for 2GB rather than 1GB of RAM -- and we now hear it will run a 1.5GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor under the hood. Whether that CPU spec turns out to be true or not, it's safe to assume the phone will pack a dual-core chip.
Lower-end and QWERTY models coming soon
From the beginning, Heins has made it clear that RIM's BB10 strategy is to target the more "premium" end of the market first, though "at least six" handsets in total will debut in 2013. We can expect mid-range and lower-end devices in this batch; Heins said a physical keyboard model will be released soon after the first BB10 touch device, and this QWERTY model should fall under the N-Series. Physical keyboards have arguably been RIM's bread and butter, and while the company clearly finessed its on-screen input for the all-touch Z10, it's unclear whether QWERTY models will receive a keyboard revamp as well.
We'd be remiss to move on without mentioning the PlayBook. Though we don't know if any new models are on the horizon, RIM has confirmed that existing versions of its biz-focused tablet will receive the upgrade to BlackBerry 10. Of course, this is possible because the PlayBook is a QNX-based device.
Unsurprisingly, most of the major carriers will be on board when BlackBerry 10 hits the market. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon have all confirmed that they'll be carrying BB10 devices at launch, and Sprint recently spoke up to reassure customers that it will be on board by "later this year." UK carriers, including Three, O2 and EE, also confirmed that they'll offer BB10 products in early 2013. Additionally, in our interview with Heins, he confirmed that BB10 devices, including the QWERTY handset, will support 4G LTE.
Clearly, we won't be walking blindly into the BlackBerry 10 launch event, as both RIM itself and countless leaks have furnished us with plenty of details about what devices and software features to expect. Still, nothing is for certain until Waterloo announces it on stage, so you'll want to tune into our liveblog when the action goes down tomorrow.
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