Heins Thorsten Heins, CEO of BlackBerry, introduces BlackBerry 10. Photo: Reuters

BlackBerry, formerly known as Research In Motion, took the wraps off its revamped BlackBerry 10 operating system at its New York City event earlier this week. The overhauled touch-centric mobile software represents a major comeback for the company -- a rebound that could be critical in a mobile market dominated by Apple and Android.

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins showcased the first two BlackBerry 10 phones at the platform’s launch event, including the Z10 and the Q10. The Z10 is a sleek handset sporting a 4.2-inch touchscreen interface, while the Q10 keeps with the company’s QWERTY keyboard form factor. The company didn’t announce any formal launch plans for the Q10, but the Z10 will roll out to most markets this month and comes to the U.S. in March.

BlackBerry 10 has been flaunted as a multitasking powerhouse that will help mobile communication transition into “mobile computing,” according to Heins, and here’s a guide to the features that we can expect to encounter on these new devices.

BlackBerry Hub

This is essentially the center for all things messaging -- it brings your email, instant messages and social media updates all in one place. A single swipe gesture anywhere in the operating system will trigger this BlackBerry Hub. This means that users can send or read messages even when an application is open without having to go back to the home screen. By default, users see every social media update, email and SMS message in one feed, but this can be adjusted within the OS.


BlackBerry was the first mobile operating system to popularize a direct messaging service exclusive to its own platform. With BlackBerry 10, that feature has gotten a refresh with integrated video chat. In addition to supporting video phone calls, which can be considered the equivalent to Apple’s FaceTime, BBM users can also share screens. This means that if you have photos or applications you want the person on the other end to see, you can show them by sharing your device’s screen while in a video call. Near Field Communication, or NFC, functionality also enables you to pick up new BBM contacts by touching two phones together.

BlackBerry Flow And Peek

BlackBerry Flow and Peek are new features built into the OS that allow you to navigate through the software. BlackBerry 10 is based around this “flow” functionality, meaning that there are no physical buttons on the hardware and navigation is based purely on gestures and swipes. The home screen doesn’t play an important role in the OS, since users Flow from app to app. To get back to the home screen, simply swipe up from wherever you are. If you want to get to the BlackBerry Hub, swipe left. Users can launch the settings menu by dragging down from the top, and all of these functions work in any app.

The Peek function lets you see if you have any new messages. Dragging in from the left of the screen opens up BlackBerry Hub, and dragging up from the bottom displays notification icons for messaging all messaging apps.

BlackBerry Cascades

Cascades is yet another entity of BlackBerry 10’s navigation features. This refers to the software’s multitasking capabilities that can be accessed -- you guessed it -- from within any application. Cascades essentially allows you to move windows around the screen, similar to the way you would on a PC. For example, when opening an email that displays in full screen, dragging in from the left lets you move the message to the right. Swiping in from the right makes your home screen slide back in.

BlackBerry Balance

This is a new multitasking feature that breaks away from the “gesture and swipe” theme. BlackBerry Balance splits your phone into work mode and personal mode, balancing enterprise with everyday use. Your business’ IT department can control and implement security restrictions in the work mode but leaves the personal mode untouched. The two different modes are split by a virtual firewall, ensuring that enterprise and personal modes don’t conflict. This is similar to what the iOS and Android app Divide provides for those platforms, allowing smartphone owners to use their personal device for business.

Improved Keyboard

BlackBerry knows what it’s doing when it comes to mobile keyboards, and that sentiment rings true with BlackBerry 10. The touchscreen keyboard that comes with BB10 marks an upgrade from previous on-screen keyboards. Every mobile platform has a feature that predicts your next word, but not quite like BlackBerry’s. As you type, words appear on the keyboard itself above the letters. They don’t clash with the actual letters on the keyboard, however, seeing as the words sit on the gray bars between the rows of keys.

BlackBerry 10 certainly seems like it has the potential to impose a threat to iOS and Android, but we’ll see just how well it catches on in the coming months. Recent statistics from the IDC indicate that BlackBerry only holds 4.7 percent of the mobile market share, but perhaps we’ll see a significant change with this new approach.