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Introducing RIM’s Blackberry 7.1: Improved Apps, Enhanced BBM, Hotspot Features, and More

At CES 2012 in Las Vegas this week, RIM will showcase BlackBerry 7.1, the next update to its mobile operating platform. The Waterloo company says it will unveil a new version of BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry Traffic, and BlackBerry Travel, plus a slew of other improvements.

The 7.1 OS will be available for download as soon as today in some countries. RIM will use the Consumer Electronics Show to build hype around the update, which isn’t major like the forthcoming BlackBerry 10 but still substantial.

“BlackBerry 7 delivered a next-generation platform for our customers around the world and the range of software updates announced today build upon the strengths of that platform to further enhance the mobile experience and make life easier, from managing daily tasks to planning big adventures,” said Mike Lazaridis, President and Co-CEO at Research In Motion.

Here are all the improvements from RIM:

The BlackBerry 7.1 OS incorporates a new feature called BlackBerry Tag that can change the way BlackBerry users share information and content. By simply tapping their NFC enabled BlackBerry smartphone against another NFC enabled BlackBerry smartphone, users can instantly invite a friend to BBM, exchange contact information, documents, URLs, photos and other multimedia content.

New BBM features allow users to personalize their experience even more with support for animated avatars, a dozen new and fun emoticons to spice up conversations, and the ability to customize chat bubbles with different colors. 

Users can now turn their BlackBerry smartphone into a mobile hotspot that can be shared by up to 5 Wi-Fi-enabled devices, including laptops and tablets. The 7.1 update also supports carrier implemented Wi-Fi calling service.

Getting to any location is now so much easier with the new BlackBerry Traffic, a free app from RIM that is being released today. BlackBerry Traffic determines a user’s estimated time of arrival based on current traffic conditions, and now includes hands-free turn-by-turn voice guidance.

The new version of BlackBerry Travel adds support for contextual deals, such as offers for hotels and car rentals, or for arranging limo services to and from the airport. BlackBerry Travel can automatically keep track of a user’s bookings and schedule and quickly notify them if their flight is delayed or cancelled, and can then help them find a new flight right away. 

The Universal Search capability has again been enhanced to help users find what they are looking for. It now includes an auto-suggest feature.

When users launch the new BlackBerry Maps application they can discover special offers, coupons, and discounts from nearby vendors. 

Customers with a BlackBerry Curve 9360 or 9380 smartphone will find a nice surprise with the BlackBerry 7.1 OS update in the form of an FM radio. Listening to the FM radio does not require a data plan or use data services.