Up close: BlackBerry 10 on Dev Alpha B

Predictive text could make some RIM customers switch from physical keyboard to touchscreen

SAN DIEGO - BlackBerry 10 will offer smartphone users some novel features when it finally ships next year, including text prediction software and BlackBerry Balance, an approach that separates work from personal data.

RIM demonstrated text prediction with BB 10 in a keynote at MobileCon here, and I got an up-close demo and quick hands-on afterwards with Jeff Gadway, senior product marketing manager for RIM.

He showed me how predictive text will work on a rather clunky Dev Alpha B smartphone prototype device being used by 6,000 RIM developers to build apps for coming BB 10 smartphones, which are due out in the first quarter of 2013.

Gadway was able to quickly type letters with both thumbsclicking through the touchscreen, but also how he could hunt and peck with one finger.

With the one-finger approach, the BB 10's predictive text capability was able to show words that anticipated what Gadway intended to write. He simply swiped a suggested word appearing above an individual letter into the body of text on the phone's display.

For example, if he was typing an email or text, "Do you want to go to get dinner?" the predictive software would suggest "dinner" prior to his even typing the letter "d." For another user, the predictive word could have "drinks" instead of "dinner" because drinks might have been more likely for that user based on prior typing behavior.

The prediction feature is based on BB 10's ability to store patterns in an internal database based on a user's prior writing behaviors, Gadway explained. For the BB10, RIM relied on technology from Swiftkey, commonly used in Android smartphones, for the learning capabilities and database, while the ability to swipe the predicted word up the screen is proprietary technology that RIM developers built, Gadway said.

The predictive text capability is even sophisticated enough to notice errors and correct them, too, he said. For example, if a user consistently keeps hitting an "i" instead of a "u," next door on the keyboard (as I often do on my own smartphone), then BB 10 will make the change automatically. It takes only six such errors for the learning engine to adapt, Gadway said.

With Balance, BB 10 will also separate work data from personal data for better security. The containerization concept prevents users from copying and pasting anything in a work email in Exchange, for example, into a personal email in Gmail.

Balance will also prevent a user from downloading restricted apps, like games, to the work container portion of the device.

What makes Balance convenient, however, is that a user can call up a single email directory with both the work email and personal email presented in a single list. Behind that list, however, BB 10 will know that the work email is protected and cannot be copied to a personal email.

Of course, a user could forward a work email to a personal account, but IT shops can work to restrict forwarded emails with other tools, Gadway explained.

Based on my quick hands-on with the Dev Alpha B device, it appears that RIM has designed a prototype with a speedy processor, which allows quick swiping and other gestures, such as moving the device from portrait to landscape quickly and reliably. RIM won't reveal what processor is being used, however.

When a user moves from an app to the home screen, a full miniature version of the app is stored on the home screen, not just a widget, Gadway said. The Dev Alpha's processor was able to make those transitions from full screen to smaller thumbnail quickly, keeping all the letters in a field of text clear enough to read throughout the transition.

The Dev Alpha B is a clunky prototype with sharp corners and edges and is not intended to possess the look, form and feel of the final BB10 smartphones, which will appear in two models -- one with a Qwerty physical keyboard and the other with the touchscreen like that on the Dev Alpha B.

For the BlackBerry users who have grown fond of the physical keyboard over the years, the predictive text feature alone could make some users want to switch to a touchscreen version of BB10.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

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