Has there been a monumental change in Research in Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry OS? We have to answer that question with a yes, and a no. Bear in mind, BlackBerry phones have traditionally been designed as non-touchscreen devices with a physical QWERTY keyboard. But in recent times, ignoring the popularity of a touchscreen interface is no longer an option. Over the last two years, we've seen RIM make its first move into this particular interface with its BlackBerry Storm and Storm2. Unfortunately, the results weren't comforting, mostly due to the inexperienced nature of the company in this field. That, and the fact that its BlackBerry OS 5 wasn't optimized for touchscreen interfaces.
Thus, in 2010, RIM decided that third time's a charm, and reworked their mobile OS to match the needs of the new-age users and its brand new device. This would be the new BlackBerry Torch 9800 that adopts a slider form factor, hiding a physical QWERTY keyboard beneath its 3.5-inch touchscreen. So how does the new BlackBerry OS 6 make itself a perfect match for both touchscreen and non-touchscreen RIM devices?
The new home screen sees the most noticeable change. OS 6 adds a degree of flexibility and customization to the interface with the addition of interchangeable pages straight from the home screen. This gives you the option to park your favorite apps in one specific category for easy reference. Each page has three levels of display, activated when you do a vertical upwards swipe on the screen - either hidden, partially revealed, or having all the apps within the page available. Swiping the screen laterally will shift your focus on the other pages, namely All, Media, Download and Favorites. Lastly, swiping the screen downwards from the top will give you a list of wireless options such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Network settings for you to tweak.
New to OS 6 is the Social Feed app that's preloaded on the respective BlackBerry devices. As its name implies, Social Feed is a collection of various popular social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Talk, Microsoft's Windows Live and many more. The idea of having a single view that shows all your social networks in a continuous timeline isn't new, but we are just as appreciative that this is now made available, out of the box, on devices powered by OS 6.
While BlackBerry devices have traditionally been business-centric, RIM has to consider the convergent nature of mobile devices. Additional effort has been made to reskin the multimedia interface.
Lastly, web browsing on OS 6 will see a huge improvement over its predecessors. The more obvious updates are the addition of tabbed browsing and multi-touch pinch-to-zoom on web pages, and more importantly, text wrapping when you zoom into a specific page. The latter has been seen on the browsers on HTC devices, and for what it's worth, we found this to be one of the most practical features of a mobile browser.
RIM has confirmed that the BlackBerry OS 6 will be available for a number of devices, both old and new. This includes the BlackBerry Bold 9700 and the BlackBerry Bold 9650. Newer devices, such as the recently announced BlackBerry Curve 3G, will also enjoy the OS 6 upgrade. And of course, the upcoming BlackBerry Torch 9800 that first featured OS 6. No dates have been confirmed for the OS 6 updates, but judging from the availability of the Torch in the States, and very soon, in other regions, it won't be too long now.