The 'new' BlackBerry BBX OS: Just more of the same

This week, RIM revealed its road map for BlackBerry app developers -- the same unfulfilled plan first seen a year ago

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RIM this week reinforced other previous statements to developers: The planned BBX OS will support development environments for both HTML5 developers via RIM's WebWorks SDK (unveiled a year ago and updated this week) and to native BlackBerry Tablet OS developers via RIM's Native SDK. BBX will also support applications developed using Adobe AIR, Adobe Flash, and the BlackBerry Runtime for Android Apps. (The current PlayBook OS supports AIR and Flash now, as well a Native SDK 1.0 apps.)

That all sounds good at first, but note these three big issues:

  • RIM in no way mentions or even suggests that BlackBerry OS apps (the ones for smartphones) will run on BBX. I'm guessing they will not, so BlackBerry OS apps are a big dead end. RIM has been mum on this transition issue for a good year, which is more reason to believe there'll be no BlackBerry OS compatibility mode for apps in BBX.
  • RIM took care to note that all of those apps will run "on future BBX-based tablets and smartphones" -- in other words, not necessarily on today's devices. Based on RIM's practice with its smartphones, I would assume that the current BlackBerry PlayBook (which runs the 1.0 version of the tablet OS) will not run the forthcoming BlackBerry Tablet OS 2.0 nor the Android Runtime. That argues for any PlayBook apps you develop now be limited to HTML5, AIR, or Flash, which RIM says will run on today's PlayBook. On the other hand, with PlayBook sales so low, maybe this is just a good reason to skip apps completely for RIM''s tablets until RIM ships a version people actually buy.
  • What's implied but not necessarily true is that PlayBook OS 2.0 is not the BBX OS. Given that RIM doesn't mingle the two names, I'm guessing they are not the same. If you develop for PlayBook OS 2.0, expect to redevelop -- or at least rework -- your apps to work in BBX OS, such as to work across both tablets and smartphones. Given that PlayBook OS 2.0 is in developer preview and appears to predate BBX OS, I can't imagine we'll see BBX OS ship before 2013, around the time of iOS 6.3 and Android 5.0.

RIM is in a tough spot. It ignored, then denied the changes in the mobile market for three years, and it followed with late, half-hearted efforts to modernize -- a textbook case of the "Innovator's Dilemma" in action. The market has moved on -- the fat lady has sung in the BlackBerry saga -- and I find it hard to believe RIM is drinking its own wine. But even if its promises are sincere, it's still a big risk to bet your development time and dollars on them. RIM has cried wolf too many times, and developers need to focus on what's real. That would be iOS and Android.

This story, "The 'new' BlackBerry BBX OS: Just more of the same," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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