Big news out of Water­loo, Cana­da today: Research in Motion has just announced via press release that it has set a launch date for Black­Ber­ry 10, the com­pa­ny’s next gen­er­a­tion mobile-oper­at­ing sys­tem, which Black­Ber­ry fans like us have been anx­ious­ly await­ing for many months.

Black­Ber­ry 10 marks a clean break from RIM’s old­er Black­Ber­ry OS, which first debuted at the end of the 1990s and ini­tial­ly pow­ered Black­Ber­ry pagers.

Though the exist­ing Black­Ber­ry OS was mod­ern­ized sig­nif­i­cant­ly in 2011 with the 7.x series (all Black­Ber­rys cur­rent­ly for sale run the 7.x series), RIM has known for some time that it need­ed to start fresh with a more pow­er­ful foundation.

That’s why, in 2010, the com­pa­ny bought QNX Soft­ware Sys­tems from Har­man Inter­na­tion­al. QNX is a pro­pri­etary, Unix-like oper­at­ing sys­tem that is wide­ly used in the indus­tri­al sec­tor. Users of QNX include Gen­er­al Elec­tric, Hon­da, the Unit­ed States Postal Ser­vice, Gen­er­al Motors, Cis­co, Land Rover, Chrysler, and Caterpillar.

QNX is espe­cial­ly pop­u­lar in the auto­mo­tive sec­tor, as is evi­dent from look­ing at the names of the com­pa­nies I just listed.

It is very pow­er­ful despite being very light, or compact.

RIM began adapt­ing QNX for use in mobile devices not long after it acquired QNX Soft­ware Sys­tems from Harman.

The fol­low­ing year (2011), RIM released the first device run­ning a QNX-derived oper­at­ing sys­tem: the Black­Ber­ry Play­Book tablet. The Play­Book’s Tablet OS has seen sev­er­al upgrades since the device’s debut, which have great­ly enhanced its fea­ture­set and addressed most of the short­com­ings flagged by reviewers.

Now RIM is bring­ing this new code­base to its smart­phone line. On Jan­u­ary 30th, the first smart­phones run­ning Black­Ber­ry 10 will be pub­licly unveiled to the world. It’s not clear when the new devices will go on sale; how­ev­er, it’s unlike­ly to be more than a cou­ple of weeks fol­low­ing the launch event. Devel­op­ers have had access to pro­to­type devices run­ning alpha and beta ver­sions of Black­Ber­ry 10 for sev­er­al months, but the gen­er­al pub­lic has not.

Two phones are expect­ed to be intro­duced on the 30th. One will be a “full touch” slate phone, sim­i­lar in form fac­tor to the iPhone 5 or the Sam­sung Galaxy S III, which are two of the top-sell­ing smart­phones in the North Amer­i­can mar­ket. The sec­ond will be a “QWERTY” phone with a phys­i­cal key­board for peo­ple like me, who can type a lot faster (and more accu­rate­ly) with phys­i­cal keys.

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions for the new phones are of course not out yet. But Black­Ber­ry enthu­si­asts have high hopes for the hard­ware as well as the new BB10 soft­ware. The new phones are expect­ed to have dual core proces­sors and at least 1 GB of mem­o­ry, per­haps more. The new devices are also expect­ed to sup­port 4G LTE wire­less bands, the lat­est revi­sions of the Blue­tooth and Wi-Fi stan­dards, and Near Field Com­mu­ni­ca­tion (NFC) in addi­tion to old­er 3G bands like HSPA and EV-DO.

His­tor­i­cal­ly, unlike Apple, RIM has designed its smart­phones so users can upgrade their capa­bil­i­ties. For instance, bat­ter­ies are remov­able and replace­able, and micro SD card slots are avail­able to expand the phones’ stor­age capacity.

Black­Ber­rys also make use of micro USB for charg­ing and trans­fer of data, obvi­at­ing the need to car­ry pro­pri­etary con­nec­tor cables. The new Black­Ber­ry smart­phones are expect­ed to have these advan­tages as well.

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins has promised that impor­tant apps and fea­tures will be avail­able at launch. Black­Ber­ry Mes­sen­ger, or BBM, is said to be get­ting a sig­nif­i­cant upgrade, for exam­ple, while retain­ing com­pat­i­bil­i­ty for old­er devices.

But the heart and soul of the new Black­Ber­ry 10 OS is undoubt­ed­ly the “hub” and “flow” user inter­face that the com­pa­ny has been demon­strat­ing at its pop­u­lar “Jam” ses­sions, such as the one held in San Jose in Sep­tem­ber.

The hub is essen­tial­ly a con­ver­sa­tion man­ag­er. In some ways it resem­bles the email client intro­duced with Ver­sion 2.0 of the Black­Ber­ry Play­Book OS, with which it prob­a­bly shares some code. The hub lets a Black­Ber­ry user eas­i­ly view and sort all incom­ing mes­sages, whether they be emails, texts, emer­gency alerts, or BBMs.

The Hub also native­ly sup­ports the mes­sag­ing sys­tems of all of the major social net­works (Twit­ter, Face­book, LinkedIn) and pro­vides a pre­view of upcom­ing meet­ings and events from the cal­en­dar. It can be accessed by sim­ply swip­ing up from the bot­tom, and then over to the right.

The hub in BlackBerry 10
The Research in Motion team shows the hub, off one of the key fea­tures of Black­Ber­ry 10, which acts as a con­ver­sa­tion man­ag­er. Mes­sages in the glob­al view, seen to the right, can be fil­tered by type or by account, as seen on the left. (Cour­tesy of Research in Motion Ltd.)

Flow is the word RIM exec­u­tives have been using to describe how the new Black­Ber­ry 10 phones can be manipulated.

Tra­di­tion­al­ly, smart­phones have been con­trolled by going to a home screen and call­ing up an appli­ca­tion. But in Black­Ber­ry 10 (as on the Play­Book), users can move between appli­ca­tions by swip­ing with a fin­ger. There’s no need for a home but­ton. It’s even pos­si­ble to “peek” at anoth­er appli­ca­tion with­out switch­ing over to that appli­ca­tion and giv­ing it con­trol of all the screen real estate.

It would be an exag­ger­a­tion to say that RIM has total­ly rein­vent­ed the smart­phone with Black­Ber­ry 10. But BB10 cer­tain­ly will break new ground with its user interface.

BB10 phones will also sup­port tech­nolo­gies oth­er smart­phones do not — notably Flash. RIM col­lab­o­rat­ed with Adobe to bring Flash to the Play­Book, and it is one of the tablet’s strongest sell­ing points. BB10 phones are sup­posed to sup­port Flash as well. While HTML5 has par­tial­ly dis­placed Flash, there are plen­ty of sites still out there that only offer video via Flash. With built-in Flash sup­port and 4G LTE, watch­ing a livestream or pre­re­cord­ed clip on a Black­Ber­ry smart­phone will be as easy as doing so on a desk­top or lap­top. Or Play­Book tablet.

Speak­ing of HTML5, BB10 offers full sup­port for the newest revi­sion of the Hyper­text Markup Lan­guage. RIM’s Tablet OS (for the Play­Book) cur­rent­ly bests all oth­er tablets when it comes to HTML5 sup­port, accord­ing to the Sights con­sul­tan­cy. Black­Ber­ry 10, mean­while, is tied with the open source Tizen OS in the larg­er mobile cat­e­go­ry for best HTML5 sup­port. (Devel­op­ment of Tizen is spon­sored by the Lin­ux Foun­da­tion; Tizen is descend­ed in part from Palm’s webOS).

It remains to be seen if the new BB10 phones can be com­pet­i­tive with the pletho­ra of Android devices avail­able, or the iPhone, in the Unit­ed States. RIM’s rep­u­ta­tion and mar­ket share in North Amer­i­ca have tak­en a beat­ing over the last two years despite remain­ing strong else­where. (Black­Ber­rys are extreme­ly pop­u­lar in coun­tries like Indone­sia, South Africa, Nige­ria, which are growth mar­kets). RIM’s big chal­lenge is mar­ket­ing. Once the new phones go on sale, RIM needs to be able to make sales in tan­dem with its car­ri­er part­ners. More than fifty car­ri­ers are cur­rent­ly test­ing BB10, and Ver­i­zon, the largest U.S. car­ri­er, has already indi­cat­ed it plans to be a launch car­ri­er. AT&T, Sprint, and T‑Mobile will prob­a­bly fol­low suit.

We look for­ward to the Jan­u­ary launch event and the future of Black­Ber­ry. As a non­prof­it that val­ues secu­ri­ty, pri­va­cy, and effien­cy very high­ly, we remain com­mit­ted to the Black­Ber­ry platform.

The self-appoint­ed tech­nol­o­gy experts at TechCrunch, AllTh­ingsD, and the New York Times may not be root­ing for RIM, but we are.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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