RIM unveils new BBX operating system for phone and tablets, tries to counter Android threat.
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Slideshow: RIM BlackBerry PlayBook Teardownr
Research In Motion co-CEO Mike Laziridis quickly gave yet another apology for the recent three-day service outage and said the company continues to try to find the cause, as he opened the BlackBerry Developer Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. Then he switched gears into propeller-head mode, addressing developers directly with RIM's new all-encompassing platform, called BBX.
In other words, RIM was determined not to let the negative news derail what the company appears to have been working so hard on: building better relationships with developers, providing them with better tools, and making the process of creating BlackBerry apps easier.
Those efforts include the following:
-- BBX is a POSIX-compliant environment, meaning that it supports a variety of development libraries, including C++, and the company is committed to working with practically any development library, possibly baking those libraries into BBX if there's enough support for doing so. On stage, RIM and its partners demonstrated a couple of different examples, like the Ideaworks Game Studio's Marmalade platform. Ideaworks Game Studio President Alex Caccia said that the porting Marmalade was incredibly easy--characterizing it as complex as pushing a "convert" button. He then demonstrated the company's popular game, Lara Croft And The Guardian Light.
-- BBX includes Cascades, a native user interface platform from The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), which RIM acquired over a year ago. This framework, RIM said, makes it easier for developers to achieve some great effects, but with very little code--essentially a matter of setting properties and configuring how the user interface should behave.
-- RIM is aggregating a series of developer outreach efforts into what it calls BlackBerry Jam. Normally this is the sort of thing that falls into a run-of-the-mill developer outreach effort, but Alec Saunders, VP of Developer Relations and Ecosystems, brought the program home by recognizing developer community members who have been the most active forum members, even breaking it down by those who post frequently in the AIR forum.
As part of those Jam efforts, RIM has started BlackBerry Jam Zone, a site that helps developers quickly make choices about how they want to develop an application, and then get access via microsites to all of the necessary tools. From those microsites, you can simply download the SDK (native, AIR, tools for converting Android apps) that you need without registration, a major change from RIM's practices. Developers only need to register to submit an app to AppWorld. This aspect of the general session got the most actual applause from the audience of developers.
RIM seems to get the point that in order for users to stop abandoning BlackBerry smart phones and running toward iPhone and Android adoption, there must be great applications. Conversely, developers need to see that there are still plenty of users. And for developers to provide great applications, the tools and processes must get better, easier, and more ubiquitous.
The company already supports HTML5 apps, now with even deeper access to the device functions (in fact RIM demonstrated an HTML5 application called Tunnteltilt that drove sound through the Playbook's HDMI port; it also included WebGL capability, demonstrating that the 3D graphics engine is part of the WebWorks development kit.) It also supports AIR apps (there are over 4,000 AIR applications in the BlackBerry App World, according to Danny Winokur, Adobe's VP & General Manager of Interactive Development; this includes Evernote), and Android apps running in a virtual machine on the BlackBerry platform. The goal, Laziridis said, is to make HTML5 apps feel just like a native app. He obviously thinks the company has achieved this goal, at least with the applications demonstrated on stage.
RIM spent a great deal of time--as most companies do at these sorts of events--overwhelming developers with statistics. For example:
-- The BlackBerry App World is the second most profitable app market place today, next to Android.
-- There are now 70 million BlackBerry users, compared with 50 million a year ago.
-- BlackBerry App World is available in 130 countries, and it supports more than 26 currencies.
-- There have been more than one billions apps downloaded;140 million apps are downloaded each month; and 5 million downloads are happening each day.
--RIM counts more than 50 million BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) users, compared to 28 million a year ago.
The company also said that while there are 200 BBM-connected apps, those apps now drive 10 percent of application revenue. RIM also made a big deal about all of the ways developers could make money: Directly (Credit Card, PayPal, Carrier Billing), in-app purchases, and subscriptions--clearly a knock on the narrow monetization view Apple has taken.
Balance Work and Play
RIM also made a significant enterprise announcement. Alan Panezic, RIM's VP of Product Management and Marketing, came on stage to talk about Balance, an existing product for the BlackBerry line, that helps IT and end users separate consumer activity and enterprise activity. In BBX, Panezic said, Balance will come directly into the app, without any work from developers. Essentially, any application that is designated as a "work" app will require a password to login. That way, users don't have to login on a system-wide basis; only when they're doing corporate work.
Those apps get provisioned that way by IT from the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES)--that's right, the Playbook will now talk directly to BES, allowing all of the IT control that BlackBerry smart phones offer. IT can now provision apps selectively, and on the Playbook, users will have a navigation area called "work."
What's more, there will now be a "work" area on App World--one where corporations can place their internally developed applications. IT can also use this area to enforce a host of pre-defined applications on a push basis. Users can't delete or alter those applications.
Clearly RIM gets that it has a captive IT audience, and it is doing everything it can to play up its strengths in the enterprise. Well done, if it still matters. Laziridis also seemed to be very pleased Citrix Receiver running on the Playbook, ooh-ing and ah-ing at what most people recognize as normal Citrix functionality.
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