RIM CEO filled with optimism over BlackBerry 10, but still can’t nail down a release date

BlackBerry Jam Thorsten HeinsSeptember 25 saw the beginning of the BlackBerry 10 Jam Americas conference, where CEO Thorsten Heins took to the stage to entertain and encourage 1,500 attending developers and partners.

He began by talking about what BlackBerry 10 would offer customers when it’s released, promising that productivity, reliability, security and multi-tasking would all be taken “to the next level.” Also on the list was a new keyboard with improved predictive text, and a completely new web browser he described as “killer.”

Rarely did Heins describe BlackBerry 10 as a smartphone operating system though, preferring to say that it’s a step forward in “mobile computing,” and emphasized its suitability for individual business users and enterprise clients.

This was particularly evident during the brief demonstration of BB10, where the calendar was shown off, as well as a feature named BlackBerry Balance, where the phone can be switched between personal and business accounts. Both sets of data are totally separate, right down to the security and access to the BlackBerry App World store.

BlackBerry 10 PeekHub, Flow and Peek

Much was made of the BlackBerry Hub, Peek and BlackBerry Flow, which make up the basic user interface of BB10. The Hub collects all incoming information and notifications — which RIM says isn’t like a unified inbox at all, but everyone else will probably disagree — while Peek lets you swipe aside open apps to return to the Hub, then swipe in a new app to use.

Finally, a feature named Flow seemed to provide fluid movement through the Hub, but wasn’t expanded upon during the presentation.

Sadly, the demonstrations highlighted the Dev Alpha device’s inability to recognize touch gestures on more than one occasion, and while enthusiasm concerning BB10’s interface was high, it wasn’t quite as exciting in real life.

Time and again, the example of a “business man running through an airport” was trotted out, particularly to show the ease with which BB10 can be controlled using one hand and one thumb.

Also highlighted was RIM’s increasing interest in Asia and other emerging markets, from the prevalence of locations in India, Africa and the East on Heins’ tour map, to making a point of intelligent multi-language support in BBM, without the need to manually change keyboards mid-flow.

On track for early 2013 release

So when is it coming? For all Heins’ high-fives and gusto during the keynote, the story of BlackBerry 10’s release is still the same — early next year. He said everything is “on track” and that release is “a few short months away,” plus they are currently testing better devices too.

A degree of positivity regarding BB10’s impending release came from the news that next month, the hardware and software will be sent to carriers for testing, although in another interview RIM’s chief marketing officer warned that this process can take anywhere between six and twenty weeks. While this won’t be true of every network all over the world, it could see some releases delayed until March 2013 at the earliest. In the same interview, it was revealed that BlackBerry 10 will initially debut in America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa.

Heins, like the rest of the tech world, knows what’s at stake with BlackBerry 10, calling it “our most important launch ever” and going on to share what sounds like a realistic expectation of how it will perform: “We have a clear shot at being the number three platform in the market” he said.

The 40-minute keynote finished with the news that the company’s user base has grown to 80 million subscribers, and that BBM has 60 million users worldwide. A new SDK will be released this week and app submissions will start on October 10. To show how RIM loves its developers, it serenaded them with a song. Yes, really.

According to a very positive Thorsten Heins, there’s “a new culture, new energy and a lot of fighting spirit at RIM,” and solely based on his upbeat BlackBerry Jam keynote performance, it’s becoming easier to believe him.