ORLANDO, Fla.-Research In Motion President and Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis met analysts' expectations April 27 by unveiling the BlackBerry 6 operating system and a new Web browser fueled by WebKit, the same open-source platform on which Google's Android OS is based.
The executive, speaking at RIM's Wireless Enterprise Symposium here, also said there are more than 41 million BlackBerry users, and vowed to double that number and eventually reach 100 million. The company plans to make this happen partially through the new user experience afforded by BlackBerry 6 and the new browser.
Calling BlackBerry 6 the "biggest step forward for the BlackBerry experience in our history," Lazaridis told the packed crowd that the user experience will feel fresh but familiar.
In other words, BlackBerry 6 offers some of the functionality popularized by Apple's iPhone, which was in turn imitated by smartphones running Android.
Multitouch functionality such as pinch-to-zoom browsing is one of the features users can expect when BlackBerry 6 appears between July and September. It is not yet clear what devices the new operating system will run on, but RIM confirmed that it will run on some existing BlackBerry models.
During the demo, which users can watch on YouTube here, Lazaridis showed off a media-intensive user experience, highlighted by crisp graphics and easy, pan-and-zoom scrolling from screen to screen. Applications highlighted included Twitter, YouTube and several other social media, instant messaging and e-mail tools.
The OS will allow users to access more than one Web page at a time. Users will be able to search right from the homescreen and see bookmarks and other info in different views. All of the core applications have been redesigned, such as messaging, calendar and contacts. BlackBerry 0S 6 adds a new application for managing social networking tools and RSS feeds.
The new browser appeared to load Websites such as that of The New York Times quite quickly and sported a bigger font size for better reading. This is a testament to the new rendering engine, developed by programmers who joined RIM in the company's August 2009 purchase of Torch Mobile.
Sensitive about the criticism that RIM's BlackBerry App World store only has 6,500 applications (compared with almost 200,000 in the iPhone App Store and 50,000 in Android Market), Lazaridis claimed: "Success in wireless will depend on who has the best apps, not the most apps."
As evidence of quality, he said BlackBerry App World has 20 million users and logs 1 million downloads each day.
In case anyone missed the fact that RIM was trying to make the BlackBerry, traditionally a device designed for corporate road warriors with major e-mail requirements, look cool, Lazaridis turned the stage over to Will.i.am, frontman for the Black Eyed Peas hip hop collective. Will.i.am professed his love of using the BlackBerry for both work and play.
"If I make music, I shouldn't send it to someone that's going to take it to a pressing plant, I should just send it from my BlackBerry to all of the millions of fans that the Black Eyed Peas have," Will.i.am said.
Such street cred gives BlackBerry a boost, but the proof will come later this summer when the OS appears on smartphones.
Broadpoint AmTech analyst Mark McKechnie predicted in an April 27 research note that BlackBerry 6 will close the gap between BlackBerry and other operating systems, including the iPhone OS, Android and Palm OS, albeit with the advantage of three to five times the bandwidth efficiency.
"We think the UI [user interface] will improve access to the BlackBerry apps store," McKechnie wrote. "The new OS will come with a browser that includes multitouch, kinetic scrolling and pinch to zoom. Further checks suggest the OS and browser will be ported to recently shipping models, including the Bold 2, pending technical hurdles."