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.

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