BlackBerry Torch could sink or swim on OS 6

Research in Motion's new BlackBerry Torch smartphone isn't groundbreaking. Its success or failure will hinge upon the strength of its revamped operating system.

From a tech specs perspective, Research in Motion's new BlackBerry Torch smartphone isn't groundbreaking. Rather, its success or failure will hinge upon the strength of its revamped operating system.

RIM's newest device doesn't have a gigantic high-definition screen like the Motorola Droid X, it doesn't have 4G connectivity like the HTC Evo 4G or even a 1GHz processor like the iPhone 4.  Rather, it has a fully retooled operating system and Web browser that is designed to make BlackBerry devices appeal more broadly to consumers and to help RIM keep up with the iPhone and Android-based devices.

One of networking's greatest arguments: iPhone vs. Droid vs. BlackBerry

The BlackBerry OS 6, which debuted Tuesday along with the BlackBerry Torch smartphone, has been in the works for quite some time and is the culmination of RIM's efforts to redo its operating system and Web browsing experience. The company first tipped its hand that it was looking to remake its Web browser when it purchased open source Web browser developer Torch Mobile, whose flagship Iris Browser is based on the open source Webkit browser engine and is specifically designed for mobile phones, set-top boxes and ultra-mobile PCs.

So now that we've taken our first official look at BlackBerry OS 6, what are its key features? Among other things, the new Webkit-based browser will offer auto-wrap text zoom on the device's touchscreen. In other words, every time you zoom in or out on a Web page on the BlackBerry Torch, the browser will automatically wrap the text to fit within the screen size. This was a feature that was sorely missing in the BlackBerry Storm, which didn't even have a touch-zoom capability.

The operating system will also work with social networking and messaging tools, such as Facebook, BlackBerry and AOL messengers, Twitter and Google Talk, so that users can access the latest messages from all of their social networking sites right from their home screens. Looking for content on BlackBerry OS 6 devices will be easier as well, as the operating system now has a Universal Search application that will let users search the entire device for contacts, pictures and so forth.

RIM is also trying to simplify the home screen on its devices by giving users several sidebars they can choose from that can limit the number of icons to appear on the main screen. Using the "frequent" sidebar, for instance, will result in only seeing the most frequently used applications on the home screen. The "favorites" sidebar, meanwhile, lets users pick and choose which applications they want to appear as icons on the home screen. Users can still access every app they want as well by choosing to use the "all" sidebar.

Finally, RIM is trying to encourage more application development for its devices by allowing app development based on the HTML 5 standard that lets companies build graphics, typography, animations and transitions without relying on third-party browser plug-ins. Apple's Steve Jobs has advanced HTML 5 as a mobile alternative to Adobe's Flash platform, which Apple currently bars from its iPhone devices.

Even if the BlackBerry OS 6 is a resounding success, however, it's not clear that the BlackBerry Torch will help the company catch up to the prime offerings from rivals Apple, HTC or Motorola, at least from a consumer perspective. For while BlackBerry devices still offer by far the most enterprise security features of any smartphone, it looks as though the Torch is already a step behind its rivals with a slower processor that clocks in at 624MHz and a screen that has a resolution of 480x360 pixels, which is relatively low compared to other big-name devices. It may be true that the BlackBerry Torch is "the best BlackBerry ever," as AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega put it Tuesday, but that still might not be enough.

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Brad Reed

Network World
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