BlackBerry 7 Unveiled: Faster Browser, Better Graphics, No QNX

As hinted by Research in Motion (NSDQ: RIMM) co-CEO Jim Balsillie last week, RIM unveiled its newest smartphone operating system Monday to kick off its BlackBerry World conference later this week. However, it’s not based on RIM’s latest and greatest technology and you’ll have to buy a new BlackBerry to get in on the action.

BlackBerry 7 was originally supposed to be called BlackBerry 6.1, but will get the full version release treatment when it arrives this summer. The highlights appear to be a new browser with a faster JavaScript compiler, which will load Web pages faster than its predecessor, and a feature called BlackBerry Balance, which will help separate work-related content and personal content on the phones. RIM is also touting the touchscreen-graphics that can be generated by the new OS.

Two new BlackBerry Bold phones were also unveiled that will run BlackBerry 7: the 9900 and the 9930. Both come with support for the NFC (near-field communications) technology that many mobile industry types believe will usher in a long-promised era of mobile payments, although support at the retail level is still a work in progress.

It’s hard to see BlackBerry 7 as anything but a stopgap product, however, until BlackBerries running the QNX software found on RIM’s Playbook tablet become available. Last week RIM apologized for product delays–presumably the 9900 and 9930–that forced it to lower its earnings guidance for the coming quarter. But it still hasn’t shared a vision of when it will bring the best software it has in house to its most popular product, although it’s still early at BlackBerry World.

In addition, Engadget reported that there will be no way for older BlackBerry users to get BlackBerry 7 on their phones, making it hard to understand why anyone would buy a BlackBerry 7 phone if QNX support really is coming to the BlackBerry product line at some point in the near future, say 2012. It’s hard to tell until reviews of the software start arriving whether or not BlackBerry 7 is something worthy of an upgrade, and unfortunately for RIM it’s likely to compete against upgraded versions of the iPhone and Android phones also arriving later this year.

Updated 6:30 p.m.: PC Magazine reported on comments made by RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis’ Monday, where he said QNX-based BlackBerry phones will arrive in early 2012. RIM also plans to roll out a way of letting BlackBerry developers write apps for the Playbook, according to the report.