What Will RIM Unveil Besides BlackBerry OS 6?

As newer and more nimble smartphone platforms have garnered attention over the past few years, Research In Motion has continued to plod along and grow. Such growth is unlikely to continue, however, without an update to the BlackBerry OS and some compelling new devices to go along with a refreshed operating system. Tomorrow, at a joint press event with AT&T, RIM is expected to raise the curtain on new products, so I’m packing up my gear and hitting the country roads en route to New York City.

It’s not a huge secret that RIM is likely introducing BlackBerry OS 6 tomorrow and for some, it’s a make-or-break situation as in a recent survey, 50 percent of those that currently own a BlackBerry are looking at other devices for their next upgrade. The company has shared some video previews of the new platform, just enough to wet our whistle while it puts the finishing touches on an updated operating system. The bits I’ve seen show a more modern look and feel that appears to include better handling of media, as well as social network integration. The social aspect is especially important because social networking is used on mobile devices more than email, and email is the long-time core competency of a BlackBerry device. Of course, the newest BlackBerry devices will also enjoy a WebKit browser, which arguably brings the best mobile web experience to a handset.

Another safe bet for tomorrow is news of a touchscreen device — or more likely, devices — that can take full advantage of the new BlackBerry platform. However, don’t count out a combination phone of touch display and QWERTY keyboard, similar to the Palm Pre. While today’s apps and web sites are geared for touch, I don’t expect RIM to fully abandon the stellar keyboards that millions of consumer and enterprise users bang away on. After the touch input challenges brought by the Storm and Storm 2 devices, I suspect RIM has greatly improved its touch input functionality and will offer a hybrid phone with both physical and software keyboard.

Apple’s iPad entry into the tablet space is likely to bring a response from RIM, but such a device likely wouldn’t be ready for sale until the fourth quarter of this year. Some type of tablet is a safe bet now that RIM has gained control of the BlackPad.com domain. But is it a BlackBerry, a tablet-like pad or something in between? We won’t know until the company makes an announcement, but without a wide variety of apps, such a device will face challenges. A small part of me wonders if RIM will take an approach like that of Palm’s ill-fated Foleo, making a tablet that works directly with a BlackBerry handset in some way.

I’m also wondering about the outside chance of some unexpected announcement. When I think of BlackBerry, I think of great mobile email machines, but I also look to BlackBerry Enterprise Server — the central component that gives BlackBerry such mastery of email. With a growing emphasis on the consumer market, I’ll say there are long-shot odds that RIM will outline some consumer cloud service for new devices. Perhaps media streaming or some other key differentiator along the lines of the recent BlackBerry Protect beta is in the works. I’ll find out tomorrow at the event, I suppose. We already know what you think of the early BlackBerry OS 6 videos, so what else are you expecting?

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d):

Why RIM’s Future (Unfortunately) Hinges on BlackBerry OS 6

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