The official skinny on the BlackBerry OS 6 from RIM

RIM / Blackberry

BlackBerry maker RIM officially announced the BlackBerry 6 on Tuesday, alongside the company’s unveiling of the BlackBerry Torch smartphone.

In fact, BlackBerry 6, RIM’s newest operating system, will debut on the BlackBerry Torch. It will be available exclusively at AT&T from August 12. Additionally, BlackBerry 6 will also have backward compatibility for some BlackBerry smartphones, most likely the BlackBerry Bold 9700, BlackBerry Bold 9650, and BlackBerry Pearl 3G. Of course, upgrading BlackBerry OS 6 to these and other devices will be subject to operator certifications in the coming months. RIM did not name specific deployment dates.

The improvements and system additions found in BlackBerry 6 are no secret as RIM has released in abundance peek videos since RIM first announced the new version of its operating system at the WES conference last April.

RIM’s official word on this is what we’d expect, with plenty of goodies that so far look like a significant improvement on the current operating system. CNET editor-in-chief Bonnie Cha gives her first impressions here and in the slideshow below. Also stay tuned for his full BlackBerry Torch review.

The interface has been refreshed for devices with touch screens or touchpads. The Home screen allows users to slide a ribbon to filter apps and content into five categories (All, Favorites, Media, Downloads, and Frequent). You can also add shortcuts to favorite contacts and web pages to the Home screen. Action menus, another addition, bring up common tasks when you press and hold with your finger or the trackpad. Multitasking has also been given a facelift, with a visual grid of running apps that appear when you hold down the Menu button.

We’re especially excited about the universal search bar on the Home screen, which will simultaneously search for keyword matches with your search term in phone memory, the BlackBerry App World app storefront, and the web.

WebKit browser
RIM has received a lot of criticism over the years for its lagging browsers. BlackBerry 6 changes that by choosing a variant of the WebKit standard that powers both Apple iPhone and Google Android browsers. (In fact, the BlackBerry Torch is named after Torch Mobile, the the browser company RIM has acquired a year ago for this purpose.) The new BlackBerry browser will support HTML5 standards, but there was no word on Flash support. We can expect browser tabs, text wrapping, and the zoom clamp.

Album art and syncing are the main themes of BlackBerry 6’s enhanced media tools. RIM’s companion desktop app, BlackBerry Desktop Software 6, will sync photos, videos and music wirelessly over Wi-Fi or via USB cable. It will support iTunes and Windows Media Player. BlackBerry 6 desktop software was released as a Windows beta in late July.

The BlackBerry camera will also add or improve camera modes to improve photo editing, organization and sharing. In addition, a new Podcasts application allows you to discover and subscribe to audio and video podcasts. A YouTube app will be preloaded on phones with BlackBerry 6.

SMS and social networks
RIM introduces threaded text messages in BlackBerry 6, as well as provisions for sharing photos and videos via MMS (multimedia messages.)

On the social side, the BlackBerry 6 operating system adds a Social Feeds app to aggregate social media accounts and RSS feeds, including BlackBerry Messenger (known as BBM), Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, AOL Instant Messenger , Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Messenger. You will be able to post status updates on the networks.

RIM has another announcement in addition to the operating system and BlackBerry Torch smartphone news. He is also releasing a new SDK (Software Development Kit) for BlackBerry 6, so developers can start building OS-specific apps and updates that tie into new features like Universal Search. BlackBerry 6 OS will be compatible with all existing BlackBerry applications, according to RIM CTO David Yach.

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