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Crucial BlackBerry makeover due

The maker of the BlackBerry smartphone is promising a speedy browser, a superb typing experience and the ability to keep work and personal identities separate on the same phone, the fruit of a crucial, long-overdue makeover for the Canadian company.

Thorsten Heins, chief executive of Research In Motion, will reveal the first phone with the new BlackBerry 10 system in New York on Wednesday. It will come with a marketing campaign that includes a Super Bowl ad.

Repeated delays have left the once-pioneering BlackBerry an afterthought in the shadow of Apple's trend-setting iPhone and Google's Android-driven devices.

But now there is some optimism after previews of the software received favourable reviews on blogs. Financial analysts are starting to see some slight room for a comeback. RIM's stock has nearly tripled to about 16.30 US dollars from a nine-year low in September, though it is still nearly 90% below its 2008 peak of 147 dollars.

Most analysts consider a BlackBerry 10 success to be crucial for the company's long-term viability. "The old models are becoming obsolete quickly," BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis said. "There is still a big user base but it's going to rotate off. The question is: Where do they rotate to?"

The BlackBerry, pioneered in 1999, has been the dominant smartphone for on-the-go business people. Corporate information technology managers like the phones because they are relatively secure and easy to manage.

Although executives have been providing a glimpse at some of BlackBerry 10's new features for months, Mr Heins will finally showcase a complete system at Wednesday's event. Devices will go on sale soon after that.

RIM redesigned the system to embrace the multimedia, apps and touch-screen experience prevalent today. "Historically there have been areas that have not been our strongest points," Rick Costanzo, RIM's executive vice president of global sales, said in an interview. "Not only have we caught up, but we may even be better than some of the competition now." Mr Costanzo said "no one else can touch" what RIM's new system offers.

The new operating system promises better multitasking than either the iPhone or Android. Simply swipe a finger across the phone's display screen to switch to another programme. All emails and notifications from applications such as Twitter and Facebook go to the BlackBerry Hub, a nerve centre accessible with a finger swipe even if you have another application open. One can peek into it and open an email, or return to the previous application without opening the email.

That said, multitasking will be limited and will not allow for extensive use of apps side by side, as is typically permitted on traditional computers. If you are watching a video, it will still run while you check for email. But it will pause if you decide to open an email and resume when you are done. The BlackBerry's touch-screen keyboard promises to learn a user's writing style and suggest words and phrases to complete, going beyond typo corrections offered by rivals. See the one you want, and flick it up to the message area. Mr Costanzo said that "BlackBerry offers the best keyboard, period."

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