Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) CEO Thorsten Heins gave developers a sneak peek at BlackBerry 10, the platform that the company is banking on to revive its flagging fortunes. He promised the company will be "laser-focused" on bringing the platform to market later this year.
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Heins used his first BlackBerry World conference appearance since becoming CEO in January to attempt to generate excitement among developers and reward them for sticking with RIM despite its declining market share. All of the developers at the event in Orlando, Fla., were given prototype BlackBerry 10 "Dev Alpha" devices to test on. Heins cautioned the developers that these devices will not be the final hardware or Blackberry 10 experience the company ships later this year. Heins also said the "Dev Alpha" devices would be shared with developers at RIM's carrier partners as well, though he was not more specific.
The event was as much about unveiling new features of the platform as it was about defining RIM's vision. The event was Heins' first major public address since taking over from longtime co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis. Heins noted that RIM has 77 million BlackBerry subscribers worldwide and that the company's goal is to make them more agile mobile users. "BlackBerry is all about success. BlackBerry creates their success," he said. "BlackBerry empowers their success."
The RIM chief then, along with Vivek Bhardwaj, head of software portfolio at RIM, demonstrated some of the key features of BlackBerry 10. Among them include the ability to move in a "flow" of applications as "glanceable" information feeds. A gesture on the side of the screen brings up notifications, and users can seamlessly move from application to application via gestures. A gesture allows users to stay within an app but go into the next screen within that app (a message in an email inbox, for example). The user interface appears to be based on the Cascade UI from The Astonishing Tribe, which RIM bought in December 2010.
"No application stops," he said. "Everything you're doing all the time keeps running in the background."
Heins and Bhardwaj also demonstrated the platform's virtual keyboard, modeled after a physical BlackBerry keyboard. The keyboard sports advanced algorithms that will track where users touch each key to make the keyboard more responsive. Additionally, gestures and swipes will allow users to fill in words the platform predicts users want to type. Additionally, Heins and Bhardwaj demonstrated the platform's camera, which allows users to tap anywhere on the screen to take a picture. Users can use a timeline tool to pick a moment right before or after the shot to set as the final image. The demonstration showed the ability to make a subject who had blinked during the picture open their eyes for the final image.
Times are tough for RIM right now, especially in the U.S. market. Research firm comScore reported that as of February 2012, BlackBerry now makes up just 13.4 percent of the U.S. smartphone market, down from 16.6 percent just three months earlier. BlackBerry lags far behind Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android at 50.1 percent and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS at 30.2 percent.
RIM delayed the launch of Blackberry 10 late last year because it said it needed specially designed dual-core chipsets with LTE capabilities.
"It is so important for us that we get it right for you," Heins said, adding, "I promise to you that the whole company is laser-focused on delivering on time and exceeding your expectations."
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