RIM reveals BlackBerry 7 OS with NFC support

The updated mobile OS will use GPU-accelerated graphics and add support for near-field communication technology, and underpin two new Bold smartphones

Research In Motion has unveiled its BlackBerry 7 operating system, which promises hardware-accelerated graphics and support for near-field communication technology.

The OS update will underpin two new versions of RIM's flagship Bold smartphone, the 9900 and 9930, which were introduced alongside the OS at the BlackBerry World conference on Monday.

BlackBerry 7 takes advantage of the latest hardware via Liquid Graphics, its GPU-accelerated graphics technology, which speeds up rendering and adds smoother transitions between applications, RIM told reporters at the event in Orlando, Florida.

GPU acceleration is "important for touch, giving an instantaneous response", said Carlo Chiarello, head of handheld portfolio product management at RIM.

Similar hardware acceleration is used in a new version of the BlackBerry browser, which also includes a new 'just-in-time' JavaScript compiler and support for more HTML 5 elements, including video.

Other enhancements in BlackBerry 7 include OS support for near-field communications (NFC), such as built-in tag reader tools and an API to allow developers to build their own NFC applications. Andrew Bocking, RIM's head of handheld software product management, noted the importance of NFC to the Canadian smartphone company.

"It's going to be an important part of the ecosystem, one that is starting to evolve," Bocking said.

Revamped OS

The revamped OS also adds voice recognition to BlackBerry's search tools and provides APIs for the development of augmented-reality applications.

RIM is bundling the full version of its recently acquired Docs To Go office suite with BlackBerry 7. The suite brings support for editing and creating Word, Excel and PowerPoint files on the smartphone and for viewing PDF files. Docs To Go will also take advantage of GPU acceleration to deliver smooth scrolling and zooming, according to RIM.

One new feature in BlackBerry 7 that will also be available to BlackBerry 6 is BlackBerry Balance. Designed to address issues arising from employees bringing their own devices to work, it separates work content from personal content. For example, a secure sandbox for enterprise applications prevents enterprise files from being copied to personal space.

As BlackBerry 7 requires a GPU, it will not be available for older RIM devices. In addition, Flash will not be supported on BlackBerry OS devices, only on the new QNX-based Tablet OS, according to Chiarello.

BlackBerry Bold 9900 and 9930

The first BlackBerry 7 devices will be the Bold 9900 and the Bold 9930, which are scheduled for release later in 2011. The new Bolds are hybrid touch and keyboard devices, with a 640x480 pixel display.

We actually increased the surface area of the keypad, while making the device smaller.

– Carlo Chiarello, RIM

"We had to make sure that in leading to the next Bold we had to provide a keyboard that was second to none," Chiarello said. "We actually increased the surface area of the keypad, while making the device smaller."

RIM also announced a major software update for its PlayBook tablet, adding a video chat application and the first official Facebook tablet application.

The company plans to launch a version of BlackBerry Balance for Playbook, Alan Panezic, RIM's vice president of software, told ZDNet UK. It will have a zone-based security model and have "the best of both worlds, protecting and helping the end user, where we manage the data and let the user do what they want", he said.

The PlayBook version of Balance will add an encrypted enterprise file system and use OS-level controls to sandbox applications, he added.

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