RIM Unveils BlackBerry BBX platform

At BlackBerry DevCon Americas 2011, Research In Motion (RIM) today unveiled BlackBerry BBX, its next generation mobile platform that takes the best of the BlackBerry platform and the best of the QNX platform to connect people, devices, content and services.

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 monetize their BlackBerry applications for today and for the future.

BBX is the next generation platform for BlackBerry smartphones and tablets. It combines the best of BlackBerry and the best of QNX and is designed from the ground up to enable the powerful real-time mobile experiences that distinguish BlackBerry products and services.

However, 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.

“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,” continued Dawson. “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,” she concluded.

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 for the first time today), and bring “Super App” capabilities to enable many advanced capabilities including deep integration between apps, always-on Push services, the BBM Social Platform, and much more.

Developers who want to support both existing smartphones (running BlackBerry 6 and BlackBerry 7 OS) and BlackBerry PlayBook tablets can monetize apps on both platforms today with BlackBerry WebWorks, which supports apps built on HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. The latest release, BlackBerry WebWorks SDK 2.2 (supporting both smartphones and tablets), is now available and includes updates for the new PlayBook OS SDK, PlayBook Simulator and more.

The BlackBerry WebWorks APIs are supported by the Ripple Emulator, a standalone, high-fidelity browser-like emulation tool that allows developers to test and debug their applications on multiple platforms and devices without having to compile or launch simulators.

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. Applications developed with the Native SDK will run today on the BlackBerry PlayBook and will be forwardly compatible on BBX-based tablets and smartphones.