NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The stakes could not be higher for Research In Motion ( RIMM) as it prepares to unveil its long-awaited BlackBerry 10 operating system early next year.

TheStreet got a sneak peek of BlackBerry 10 running on a prototype of one of RIM's new devices this week, and was quietly impressed with the new OS.

The user interface, particularly the BlackBerry Flow feature, which allows navigation across open applications, seemed a little complicated at first, but I quickly learned how to control the touchscreen with a single gesture. Soon, I was skimming between applications with ease and using the Active Frames feature to select and crisply minimize apps.

BlackBerry Hub, which consolidates messages, feeds and notification events, looks an effective way to manage key information on the device, again via a single gesture. BlackBerry 10 also offers tight integration with social networks such as Facebook ( FB) and Twitter, enabling users to update their status or tweet without leaving the Hub section of the OS.

A sophisticated operating system, clearly geared towards tech-savvy gadget users, BlackBerry 10 is designed "for an audience that enjoys multi-tasking," according to RIM.

One of the best parts of the OS is the new BlackBerry Keyboard, a touchscreen version of the physical keyboard found on the company's existing devices. The keyboard offers impressive next word prediction, letting users "flick" words to the screen with a single gesture, something which will be useful for one-handed typing. Impressively, Keyboard can both auto correct and predict in three languages -- English, French and Spanish.

Overall, despite my initial misgivings, BlackBerry Keyboard was both easy to use and aesthetically pleasing.

In a clear nod towards the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon, whereby workers hook their own smartphones (often Apple ( AAPL) iPhones) up to corporate networks, RIM has built a feature called Balance into BlackBerry 10. This separates work and consumer applications, keeping corporate and personal data secure in separate partitions within the OS.

RIM also launched on Thursday its BlackBerry 10 Ready Program, which aims to prepare enterprise customers for the operating system's arrival.

While I played with a "close to final" version of the BlackBerry 10 software, the hardware it ran on was still in prototype mode, according to RIM. Nonetheless, with BlackBerry 10's emphasis on gestures and the current trend for larger phone screens, I would not be surprised if the prototype's 4.2-inch diagonal display appears on the final version of the device.

By way of comparison, Apple's new iPhone 5 has a 4-inch display.

The touchscreen device I demoed this week, known as a Dev Alpha B in the RIM developer community, had a slightly larger form factor than the iPhone 5. This, however, could be the result of the prototype casing surrounding the RIM phone.

Intriguingly, though, the device seemed to weigh a similar amount as the 3.95-ounce iPhone 5.

RIM has also sent a Dev Alpha C phone out into its developer community, which features a QWERTY keyboard.

Last month, the handset maker confirmed that its BlackBerry 10 devices will debut at a launch event on Jan. 30, 2013, prompting speculation that the gadgets will be available shortly after.

There was heated debate about the potential impact of BlackBerry 10 during TheStreet's live blog of RIM's second-quarter results, with commenters clashing over whether the new OS can turn RIM's fortunes around.

Some 57.42% of respondents to TheStreet's recent poll on the subject said that RIM will find salvation in BlackBerry 10. Just over 33% of respondents believe that this is unlikely, noting that the company's problems are too big.

Weighed down by fierce competition from Apple's iPhone, Google ( GOOG) Android devices, and delayed product launches, RIM's shares have plunged more than 29% over the past 12 months. The stock, however, enjoyed a modest rally recently, buoyed by positive analyst sentiment ahead of the BlackBerry 10 launch.

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

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