Research In Motion didn't whip back the curtain entirely from the QNX-based operating system it expects will put its BlackBerry smartphones on a more competitive footing with the likes of Apple's iPhone and Google Android, but RIM did offer some details of that BBX platform at its BlackBerry DevCon Americas conference in San Francisco.
BBX will power both BlackBerry smartphones and tablets, and support the company's cloud services. Although the operating system represents a refresh for RIM, having been built from the ground up, the company is taking pains to link it with previous work: BBX will 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."
A variation of QNX already powers RIM's PlayBook tablet, for which the company introduced the developer beta of its Blackberry PlayBook OS 2.0. That beta offers developers the ability to port Android applications onto the tablets, a strategic move that 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.
RIM 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.
"At DevCon today, we're giving developers the tools they need to build richer applications," Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO of RIM, wrote in an Oct. 18 statement tethered to the conference, "and we're providing direction on how to best develop their smartphone and tablet apps as the BlackBerry and QNX platforms converge into our next-generation BBX platform."
RIM also introduced a Native SDK for the BlackBerry PlayBook (1.0 gold release), which gives developers the ability to "build high-performance, multi-threaded, native C/C++ applications, and enables developers to create advanced 2D and 3D games and other apps with access to OpenGL ES 2.0 and Open AL." Applications developed via that Native SDK are apparently forward-compatible with tablets and smartphones running BBX.
In addition, RIM is pushing BlackBerry WebWorks SDK 2.2 for smartphones and tablets, for building HTML5 applications with native capabilities, and Open Source libraries for the PlayBook platform.
RIM is betting big that its new generation of BBX products will allow it to compete against the Apple iPhone and Google Android, which have swallowed up enormous chunks of the mobility market and even threatened BlackBerry's traditional standing among enterprise customers. Until those devices reach store shelves, though, RIM is depending on a refreshed line of BlackBerry smartphones running BlackBerry 7 OS to help it retain market share.