RIM's BBX is being touted by the company as its next-generation operating system and a way to reclaim mobility momentum. But questions remain.
Motion's upcoming BBX operating system will operate on both smartphones and
tablets, making the company the latest to jump into the unified OS pool.
already in that pool with the upcoming Windows 8, which will run on both
tablets and PCs. Google will soon release its "Ice Cream Sandwich" Android
build, unifying its tablets and smartphones on a common platform. And Apple's
iOS powers both the iPhone and iPad.
In light of
that, RIM really had no choice but to follow suit. However, the transition to
BBX raises thorny questions for the company, even as it pins its hopes on the
upcoming operating system's ability to better compete with iOS, Android and
apparently "support applications developed using any of the tools available
today for the BlackBerry PlayBook," according to an Oct. 18 statement released
by the company, "including native SDK, Adobe AIR/Flash and WebWorks/HTML5, as
well as the BlackBerry Runtime for Android Apps."
that BBX will interoperate with the PlayBook (whose operating system features
the same QNX base being used to construct BBX). It's a bigger question, though,
whether those buying BlackBerry devices loaded with BlackBerry 7 OS-or those
who already own older BlackBerry hardware-will have the ability to upgrade to
the new operating system once it rolls out. Both Apple and Google have
traditionally offered a way for owners of older iOS and Android devices to
upgrade to new versions of their respective operating systems; Microsoft, on
the other hand, severed all compatibility between its antiquated Windows Mobile
and its newer Windows Phone.
question involves applications. RIM is offering the developer beta of its
BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0, which gives developers the ability to port Android applications onto the tablets. The
move carries some risks for RIM: While it could increase the popularity of the
platform by vastly expanding the ecosystem of available applications, it also
risks alienating those developers who poured so much time and effort into
developing BlackBerry applications. There's also the danger of blurring those
lines that define RIM as a unique entity, creating branding confusion.
offered precious few details about BlackBerry BBX's user interface or release
date. This stands in sharp contrast to some other recent conferences, such as
Microsoft's BUILD, which accompanied a detailed drill-down into an upcoming
platform (in Microsoft's case, Windows 8) with the unveiling of hardware loaded
with same. Google and Apple have also offered regular timelines regarding their
software updates. That uncertainty on RIM's part could potentially harm its
reputation with developers and enterprise customers, both of whom like to roadmap
out their upgrades and projects over a longer time horizon.
It does mean
that, over the next year, RIM will likely need to make a hard case for BBX in
order to make the operating system stand out over the others on the market.
That's in the face of some significant headwinds: For the past few quarters,
the company has wrestled with declining revenues and low sales of its older
BlackBerry devices. It's also in the midst of damage control over a global
outage of BlackBerry services that lasted nearly a week. Whether it can
overcome all that and triumph in the face of substantial competition from
Google, Apple and Microsoft is anyone's question.
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Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.