BBX: 10 things you need to know
The future of BlackBerry is HTML5 plus the same QNX operating system that’s in the PlayBook – and also in many cars, set-top boxes and even nuclear power stations.
The next version of the BlackBerry OS will be called BlackBerry 10 or BB10 (not BBX after a lawsuit was filed), it will run on phones as well as tablets and it’s a big change from the current BlackBerry OS (based on a mobile version of Java).
It also means rewriting all the BlackBerry apps out there, including RIM’s own apps like email and calendar, which we still haven’t seen on the PlayBook.
We don’t know the BB10 release date, although we’re expecting to see it next year – but here’s what we do know.
1. BlackBerry 10 isn’t the next version of the PlayBook OS
There’s an update coming for the PlayBook, called PlayBook OS 2.0, which adds key missing apps like email and BBM, but that’s not BB 10 and it won’t have all the BlackBerry features that BlackBerry 10 will include like voice search and push notification for apps.
RIM VP Chris Smith told TechRadar: “The vision is that all the native services in BlackBerry – whether that’s enterprise integration or push or payments, the vision is those services will still be available for developers to plug in to. They will come across onto BBX in the future but it’s incorrect to say they’ll be there on PlayBook 2 out of the gate.”
NOT BBX: The beta of the PlayBook OS 2.0 update looks just like the PlayBook
2. The beta isn’t BB 10 and you don’t want it
If you want to upgrade your PlayBook you can get a beta version today, but this is strictly a developer preview (and the instructions for signing up for the preview are suitably arcane.)
It doesn’t include any of the applications that will be in the PlayBook 2.0 operating system like email, calendar, contacts and BBM, although all the apps that came with the original PlayBook still work just as well.
What it does have is Air 3 and Flash Player 11, the latest version of the Bolt HTML5 browser and the runtime for using Android apps that have been repackaged by developers for BlackBerry – but unless you have your own Android source code to work with, you won’t see Android running.
3. BlackBerry 10 won’t run BlackBerry apps
When the PlayBook first came out, RIM talked about building a BlackBerry emulator so you could keep your existing apps. That’s not going to happen.
“I don’t want to tell you it was an easy decision,” the new head of developer evangelism at RIM Alec Saunders told TechRadar; “we spent a lot of energy on getting the BlackBerry Java platform to run in BBX.”
But when they looked at how the apps would compare to what you could build on BB10 with QNX, HTML5 and AIR, “it would look like a diminished experience”.
4. But BBX will run Android apps
BBX and PlayBook OS 2.0 will run Android apps, but you can’t just download them from Android Marketplace – they have to be repackaged for BlackBerry 10. That doesn’t mean changing the code but the developer has to take the .APK source code and use the RIM tools to turn it into an app.
And not every Android app can be repackaged, Saunders explained to us. “As an Android OEM you get to licence Google Maps. We’re not an Android OEM, so we don’t. If you have an app that relies on Google Maps it won’t run but there are about 70% of apps that will come across unchanged.”
SOME ANDROID: Not all Android apps can be packaged for BB10 but the Pulse social media client looks good on the PlayBook
5. HTML5 and Flash are the future
The Bolt browser for the BlackBerry is based on WebKit and ex-co-CEO Mike Lazaridis said RIM will be “investing in making sure we have the best HTML5 implementation in the world”.
It’s not just about web pages. RIM VP Alan Brenner told us he expects “the vast majority” of apps to be HTML5 within a few years. Developers can start work now; HTML5 and Air apps that work with BlackBerry 7 will also run on BB10.
The PlayBook is getting Flash Player 11 and Air 3 (the runtime that Photoshop Touch for Android is built in) in the next update. That puts RIM in head-to-head competition with Android tablets and it might come down to who can do the best job of connecting phone features like push notification to Web apps; RIM is promising to let Web apps integrate deeply with BlackBerry 10 features like the inbox and BBM.
SPECIAL EFFECTS: The RIM browser team is working on HTML5 standards and tools, like the AliceJS library to make it easier to do animations in CSS
6. It looks like only one phone will launch with BB 10
Despite the song and dance that RIM has made about its next-gen BlackBerry 10 handsets, sources say the company now only has one so-called ‘superphone’ under development.
7. Native is the future too
Thanks to QNX, BB10 – and the PlayBook today – can run the same kind of C++ code as a PC, Mac or console and most of the major gaming engines like Unity, Marmalade and ShiVa3D are now available for building PlayBook games, so you’ll see games using the same animation engine as on the PlayStation 3.
RIM is building a lot of open source projects right into the platform for developers to work with – including the Qt framework that was at the heart of Intel and Nokia’s ill-fated Meego operating system. That gives developers who are used to other platforms a lot of tools to build apps with that other mobile devices don’t have.
8. There’s lots of 3D: meet Cascades
Forget the boring black and blue BlackBerry interface; BB 10 apps will have 3D effects and animations so pages flip on and off screen, lists fold up like a concertina when you filter them and photographs curl slightly at the side like a real print.
That’s courtesy of user interface company The Amazing Tribe that RIM bought last year; they’ve written a user interface framework on top of Qt called Cascades that makes it easy to create those kinds of special effects.
The PlayBook picture viewer actually uses an early version of this but BlackBerry 10 will have far more effects and any app can use them.
3D LOOK: Cascades makes on-screen pictures look real and BB10 apps look more elegant
9. Think PlayBook in the car
The current PlayBook OS is based on the version of QNX built for car makers and “the next generation of QNX for cars is going to be built from BBX,” Alec Saunders told us; car makers are keen to use HTML5 for in-car information and entertainment.
That makes it easier to treat your car as another device, he suggested, and to share information. “Ultimately you will be able to transition from your smartphone to your tablet to your TV to your car. Sync will be important. I think you’ll start to see devices do things like Bridge today, where it mirrors [on the PlayBook] what’s on the BlackBerry handset.
“You’ll use one device to access what’s on another. QNX is made for these kind of scenarios, projecting information from one device to another. You won’t have five devices and have all your content on everything; it’s going to have to grow seamlessly across them.”
10. BlackBerry 7 isn’t dead yet
There will be BlackBerry 10 phones; “future unnamed devices” as Alec Saunders mysteriously puts it. But BlackBerry 7 phones will be on sale for quite a while, with new models launched recently and there will be new services coming out for BlackBerry 6 and 7 like the BBM Music social media sharing system.
11. BlackBerry 10 is / isn’t delayed
RIM was forced to hit back at reports that it lied about the reason for the delay in bringing the next generation of BlackBerry phones to the market.
Boy Genius Report posted a story claiming that phones running the new BB10 operation system had been pushed back because RIM did “not have a working product.”
This contradicted the Canadians’ assertion that BB10 handsets would not arrive until later in 2012 because it was waiting for new LTE chipsets to be manufactured.
RIM’s full statement reads: “RIM made a strategic decision to launch BlackBerry 10 devices with a new, LTE-based dual-core chipset architecture. As explained on our earnings call, the broad engineering impact of this decision and certain other factors significantly influenced the anticipated timing for the BlackBerry 10 devices.
“The anonymous claim suggesting otherwise is inaccurate and uninformed. As RIM has previously explained, and as Mike Lazaridis reiterated on the earnings call, we will not launch BlackBerry 10 devices until we know they are ready and we believe this new chipset architecture is required to deliver the world-class user experience that our customers will expect. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply false.
“We appreciate the interest in our future platform and we will continue to work hard to deliver that platform as soon as possible. At the same time, we also remain very excited with the success of our recently launched BlackBerry 7 smartphones and we believe these products offer a very compelling choice for both new customers and the almost 75 million BlackBerry users around the world.”