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CES 2013: A preview of RIM's BlackBerry 10 OS

CES 2013: A preview of RIM’s BlackBerry 10 OS

As the first wave of attendees stormed the gates of CES 2013 on Tuesday morning, RIM, in a hotel suite several miles away, gave a small group of journalists a glimpse of its upcoming BlackBerry 10 operating system. This was a “hands-off” presentation to give us a taste of some of the new OS’s key features without revealing anything about the redesigned phones that will run on it.

Phone previews will come in the coming weeks, while the official launch and presentation of both the OS and phones happens on January 30th.

Interface. BlackBerry 10’s refinements are centered on a simpler interface with square-shaped, iPhone-like icons that provide more direct access to core functions with fewer options for fiddling with settings. The Web browser has been optimized for HTML5 support to enable the next generation of BlackBerry devices to share links and social updates as easily as you can on Android and iOS phones.

But the key improvement is the virtual keyboard, which will now consider the context of what you type to make more accurate word predictions. It will also learn from your mistakes. Here are the details:

Keyboard. As with other phone platforms, the new virtual BlackBerry keyboard will suggest words as you type—but now, the words will appear over the letter on which your finger happens to be. If it’s the right word, just slide that finger up a bit to insert the word into your sentence.

The keyboard also has the ability to interpret your entries contextually. For example, if you type “Ill” at the beginning of a sentence, it will assume you meant “I’ll” because you’re less likely to begin a sentence with the word “Ill.”

One of the coolest tricks of the new keyboard is that you can set it to handle three languages at the same time: for example, French and Spanish in addition to English. This makes it easier to insert foreign words into your sentences without the predictive text feature automatically changing them to what it thought you meant to type in English.

Browser. The browser’s title bar doesn’t automatically appear when you’re on a Web page, which allows more space for the page itself. Also, for the same reason, the URL bar is smaller and located at the bottom of the screen.

You can easily bookmark or add a site to the home screen, and you can even tag your selection with descriptive words, like “cool game.” A menu you can summon by sweeping your finger left to right across the screen provides a multitude of options for sharing and other tasks with what’s on the screen at the moment.

Photos. Taking a cue from Samsung Galaxy phones and the Windows Phone 8 Nokia Lumia 920, BlackBerry 10 devices’ cameras will let you choose your subjects’ best facial expressions from several different photos and “glue” them on one perfect photo. The feature, called Time Shift, actually takes five shots before and five shots after you engage the shutter, to ensure you don’t miss that perfect smile. Once you’ve composed the perfect still, the camera automatically discards the other nine pics.

Bottom line. RIM obviously had to employ a significant amount of mimicry in BlackBerry 10 to catch up with the steadily advancing features of Android, iOS, and even Windows. But in the process, the company introduced some intriguing and unique advantages of its own, especially regarding the keyboard, which should make smart-phone users who’d rather type than talk very happy.

I eagerly await trying the new BlackBerry 10 phones, which I was told will be in a few weeks, so check back soon for our first impressions. And don’t miss the rest of our CES 2013 coverage.

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