RIM today (19 October) unveiled BlackBerry BBX, its next generation mobile platform that combines features of its existing BlackBerry operating platform and the best of the QNX platform.
In addition, RIM announced a series of developer tool updates, including WebWorks for BlackBerry smartphones and tablets, the Native SDK for the BlackBerry PlayBook and a developer beta of BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 with support for running Android applications. RIM also provided direction for developers on how to best develop and monetise their BlackBerry applications for today and for the future.
‘With nearly five million BlackBerry apps downloaded daily, our customers have made BlackBerry one of the most profitable platforms for developers,’ said Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO at RIM. ‘At DevCon today, we're giving developers the tools they need to build richer applications 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.’
The BBX platform will include BBX-OS, and will support BlackBerry cloud services and development environments for both HTML5 and native developers. BBX will also support applications developed using any of the tools available today for the BlackBerry PlayBook – including Native SDK, Adobe AIR/Flash and WebWorks/HTML5, as well as the BlackBerry Runtime for Android apps – on future BBX-based tablets and smartphones.
BBX will also include the new BlackBerry Cascades UI Framework for advanced graphics (shown at DevCon for the first time today), and bring “Super App” capabilities to enable many advanced capabilities including deep integration between apps, always-on Push services and the BBM Social Platform.
Ovum chief analyst Jan Dawson commented: 'With BBX, RIM is rebuilding the foundation for all its devices, including the iconic handhelds, and BBX begins to show some real promise in that sphere, with potential for a much more powerful, immersive and media friendly platform. However, the adoption of QNX across the entire line in the coming months and years also means that RIM is leaving its traditional BlackBerry developers high and dry. In fact, it's arguably providing better support for existing Android developers than it is for existing BlackBerry Java developers, as it seeks to drive up the number of apps on the platform rapidly. There simply is no migration path for existing developers, short of starting from scratch with an entirely new development environment.
Dawson continued: 'The native SDK is a big step forward in allowing developers to create applications which are truly optimized for these devices and which take advantage of all the hardware capabilities. The range of options for development, including those already announced, will be appealing to developers, but they only respond to part of the challenge for developers. The main challenge remains giving developers an audience and a market for their applications, which doesn't exist today in the case of BBX. As long as it remains a tablet-only operating system, developer appeal will be limited, and with BBX-based handhelds some time off still, many developers won't feel a pressing need to develop for BBX in the near term.
'In the meantime, the platform risks suffering from the same chicken and egg problem as many others - users won’t buy a device without any apps, and developers won’t develop for a platform without any users,' he concluded.
Other announcements to support developers made a DevCon included:
• RIM also announced today the immediate availability of the Native SDK for the BlackBerry PlayBook (1.0 gold release). The Native SDK allows developers 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, as well as device specific APIs.
• RIM also showcased BlackBerry Cascades, a rich user interface framework coming to a future release of the native SDK.
• The company announced support for Adobe AIR 3.0 on the BlackBerry PlayBook, which can integrate with the underlying OS. It will be supported on future BBX-based tablets and smartphones.
• RIM introduced the Developer Beta version of the BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0. The Developer Beta includes the BlackBerry Runtime for Android apps and the BlackBerry Plug-In for Android Development Tools (ADT), allowing developers to quickly and easily bring Android applications to BlackBerry PlayBook tablets.
• Finally, RIM also announced the BlackBerry Open Source Initiative to port popular Open Source libraries to the BlackBerry PlayBook platform.