BlackBerry maker RIM has announced at CES an updated version of the software that powers its smartphones, and is also set to give attendees a preview of PlayBook OS 2.0, the next version of its tablet platform.
RIM surprised CES watchers by announcing its BlackBerry 7.1 OS at the show, adding a handful of enhancements over BlackBerry 7 OS, which was released last August alongside several new Torch and Bold smartphone models.
These include a new feature called BlackBerry Tag, which enables users with NFC-enabled handsets to swap information by tapping them together to exchange contact information, documents, URLs, photos and other data.
BlackBerry 7.1 OS adds a mobile hotspot capability, allowing a BlackBerry smartphone to connect up to five other devices to the internet via Wi-Fi. It also enables BlackBerry users to make IP telephony calls over Wi-Fi using UMA/GAN services, where available.
RIM said that mobile operators worldwide should start rolling out the update to customers immediately, subject to certification.
Meanwhile, RIM said it is offering CES attendees a sneak peek of its upcoming BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0, set to be available as a free download for PlayBook tablet owners in February.
RIM chief executive Mike Lazaridis said the company is building on the strong foundations of the original PlayBook OS.
Features include an update to the BlackBerry Bridge tool for linking a PlayBook with a BlackBerry smartphone, which now enables the BlackBerry to act as a wireless keyboard and mouse to the tablet device.
PlayBook OS 2.0 also has a new unified inbox that mixes email with social network updates from services such as LinkedIn and Twitter, while the inbox is now multi-tasking - enabling users to reference one email while they compose another, for example.
An updated Contacts app now serves as a social hub, merging and consolidating information from sources such as email and social networks into one contact record for each person in the address book, according to RIM.
These records are automatically kept up to date with status updates, conversations, and related news articles.
One novel feature is the Print To Go application, which allows users to wirelessly print documents from a laptop or PC to their BlackBerry PlayBook instead of a printer.
This enables users to manage documents such as an airline boarding pass email or hotel web confirmation on the device as if they were physical printouts, RIM said.
At Mobile World Congress next month, RIM is expected to showcase its BlackBerry 10 platform, a future operating system that will effectively merge the BlackBerry and PlayBook platforms and is expected later this year.
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