BlackBerry OS 6: What it Really Delivers

Research In Motion (RIM) has just announced the August 12th launch of the new BlackBerry Torch 9800 and its new BlackBerry OS 6 operating system. A certain amount of hype always comes with big releases like this and since RIM has been getting us excited for a while now through its official blog’s sneak peeks. Let’s take a good, hard look at the all new BlackBerry OS 6 and you can decide if this is something that you really need right now.

First of all, BlackBerry OS 6 is not an entire departure from the company’s older operating systems. In fact, it is built on the technology and framework of OS 5. This has the advantage of greatly speeding up the development time, but then again, remember Windows Me and Windows Vista? Not that I am comparing OS 6 to Windows Me—RIM would probably rather die than release something that buggy—but after a while, adding new things on top of the old does slow things down and can cause some really difficult to find bugs. Personally, I am surprised that RIM did not decide to go with a totally redesigned, UNIX-based operating system. Sigh. Maybe with the next operating system release.

The home screen in the new OS has gone through some major revisions. It reminds me a bit of one from an Android OS smartphone. Not that that is a bad thing, mind you. BlackBerrys have been looking kind of circa early 2000s for far too long. Universal search now makes an appearance, and you have a lot more ways to store quick link shortcut icons to the apps, contacts and media that you access the most. Long story short, icons are in, notifications are done right, and the experience is a lot sleeker.

Take a look at the overall redesigned user interface. For those who will be running OS 6 on a touchscreen device (the Torch 9800 or a later model like the coming Storm 3), contextual menus pretty much everywhere are a great addition. Simply press and hold on the screen and the contextual menu opens up to give a variety of in app options. You can also choose to view the standard full menu of options through the standard BlackBerry menu button or by choosing it in the contextual menu.

Apps still retain all of their options through their own interfaces—they have not been compiled into a single options and settings area like on iOS devices. This will keep current BlackBerry users from becoming confused and let you switch things around without having to poke through additional menus and screens. It is nice to see the nod given to the old interface, but for users switching to the new BlackBerry from another smartphone, it might be a little confusing for them at first.

SMS and MMS messaging services have also been integrated now. I am not quite sure why this was not done a while ago, as I tend to think of SMS and MMS as the same thing now, even though they are still locked into different carrier plans and use different amounts of data. However, it is nice to see RIM realize that for the average consumer, media is in, data usage is on the mind’s backburner, and what is the point of a smartphone with a 5 megapixel camera like the Torch without easy to use picture messaging? This should keep the converts from flooding forums with questions like “How do I send MMS messages!” but with poorer grammar and spelling.

The new Webkit-based browser is certainly a major step up from previous BlackBerry browsers. I wrote a piece already today about a head to head comparison between the Torch and its BlackBerry 6 Browser and the iPhone 4 and its Safari Mobile. Check it out here and note that the iPhone 3G is comparable in terms of browsing speed to the Torch (I ran a few tests of my own to find out exactly where it sits). Higher-end Android OS smartphones are still faster and the iPhone 4 is still at the top of the pack. However, expect later BlackBerry models with faster hardware to do even better.

Plenty of other features like improved video and video camera support are included, an integrated YouTube video uploader makes an appearance and that new social media integration is also here. The social media integration deserves its own blog posting, so I will make sure to get one out for you before the end of the week. Overall, BlackBerry OS 6 is solid and much easier to navigate around than OS 5.

Let me know what you think so far of OS 6 and if you think that it is worth upgrading to. Hopefully those app developers have taken notice and are hard at work at this moment making some great apps for us to enjoy. Happy BlackBerrying!

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