Upcoming smartphone OS could well be the firm's last chance to get it right.

RIM shows off BlackBerry 10

BlackBerry maker RIM has lifted the lid on the upcoming BlackBerry 10 software but analysts are already asking if the new release is too little, too late to salvage market share from smartphone rivals.

At the BlackBerry World conference in Florida, RIM chief Thorsten Heins showed off some of the new features of BlackBerry 10 including a shift to a touchscreen-only keyboard – suggestive that the firm will do away with the BlackBerry trademark physical keyboard.

The unveil was described as a ‘sneak peek’ and was not accompanied by news of any actual devices. Thorsten would only say that BB10 was "close" and that RIM was "on schedule" for the update that’s widely viewed as the last great hope to stand up to rivals such as Apple and Android.

Thorsten showed off much of the look of the new update, revealing a ‘desktop’ that seems to have tiles or widgets much like competing smartphones. As you’d expect special attention has been given to the email application, now displaying attachments inline.

There’s also an interesting approach to using the phone while an incoming call comes in. The phone number and notification takes up just part of the screen rather than being full-screen as is usually the norm.

BB10’s new software keyboard also looks more in line with the best-of-class virtual keyboards such as the third-party downloads for Android. The keyboard uses data previously seen in messages to inform the prediction of words, offering suggestions right in between the lines of the keyboard.

Whether it’s up to the best of Android virtual keyboards like Swype, SwiftKey X and so on, remains to be seen but it’s certainly a cut above the rather low-tech approach of Apple’s non-replaceable iOS keyboard.

It’s not just email and productivity that is getting a look over with the new BlackBerry 10, media playback is also getting a revamp including the ability to send whatever is on the display to external devices like televisions.

There’s no further information on when BB10 will arrive, or news of actual phones will arrive either but Thorsten’s BB10 demo does seem to indicate that the company is willing to have one last go at becoming competitive.

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