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RIM debuts new device platform

Remaining in the spotlight following a week of negative publicity, BlackBerry maker, Research In Motion (RIM) took to the stage at a developers' conference yesterday to, among other things, announce its new platform in next-generation devices.

Struggling to maintain market share in the fast-paced world of smartphone and tablet technology, and still dealing with the aftermath of its biggest service outage to date, the Canadian smartphone maker presented its future plans at DevCon Americas 2011, in San Francisco. These included the long-awaited unveiling of BBX and a series of developer tool updates, as well as RIM's new tablet offering.

Critics and analysts are of the opinion that RIM has got a lot of work ahead of it, should it wish to effectively reverse the growing preference for faster and more intuitive Apple devices and those powered by Google's Android.

Next-generation platform

Although RIM did not offer a timeframe, it said it would install its new BBX platform in next-generation devices.

BlackBerry BBX, says RIM, takes the best of the BlackBerry platform and the best of the QNX platform to connect people, devices, content and services. “BBX is designed from the ground up to enable the powerful real-time mobile experiences that distinguish BlackBerry products and services.

“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 yesterday), 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.”

According to Reuters, however, RIM did not say when the BBX software would show up in a product. “[RIM was also] silent on when the PlayBook might handle e-mail routed through its secure enterprise servers without being linked to a BlackBerry. Critics say that is a big shortcoming for RIM's tablet.

“Investors appeared neither disappointed nor very excited. RIM shares rose 3.6% to $23.21 in Nasdaq trade [yesterday], but the stock has fallen about 60% since the beginning of the year.”

MD for World Wide Worx, Arthur Goldstuck, says there is more to BBX, which may stand RIM in good stead competitively. “The big story hidden in the launch of BBX is that it will use BlackBerry Runtime for Android Apps. We've argued for some time that the BlackBerry platform can only compete if it supports the Android market.

“The phones themselves need to evolve to be more apps-friendly, but a tablet that supports BlackBerry App World and Android App Market – and is cheaper than the competition – will be a viable competitor. For the phones, it will be a new lease on life, especially with HTML5 also supported.”

BB for developers

In a bid to win over developers who, according to Reuters, are “more eager to create games and other apps for Apple's iPhone and iPad and for the slew of devices using Android”, RIM also announced a series of developer tool updates.

These include 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.

In addition, RIM provided direction for developers on how to best develop and construct their BlackBerry applications, for now and the future, in light of the BlackBerry and QNX platforms convergence.

President and co-CEO of RIM, Mike Lazaridis, said yesterday that the tools the company presented would enable developers to build richer applications and optimally develop their smartphone and tablet apps.

“With nearly five million BlackBerry apps downloaded daily, our customers have made BlackBerry one of the most profitable platforms for developers.”

Developers cautious

While attracting new developers is a crucial part of RIM's survival strategy, many of them, says Reuters, may prefer to wait until BBX-equipped hardware hits the market to gauge demand, before making a commitment to create apps.

“On the other hand, consumers may not embrace any new hardware unless a rich array of apps is available to run on the devices.”

Compounding developers' uncertainty is the fact that a timeframe of when the BBX hardware will be installed on devices that can actually be purchased is not known.

BB PlayBook 2.0

While BBX is RIM's purported future, the PlayBook has been its Achilles heel.

The tablet offering, launched in April, fell short of expectations and failed to impress consumers and critics alike.

Yesterday, RIM introduced its Developer Beta version of the BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0, which includes the BlackBerry Runtime for Android Apps and the BlackBerry Plug-In for Android Development Tools (ADT). This, says RIM, will allow developers to quickly and easily bring Android applications to BlackBerry PlayBook tablets.

“The BlackBerry Plug-In for ADT (an Eclipse plug-in) extends a developer's existing Eclipse Android development environment to support the PlayBook, and includes the BlackBerry PlayBook Simulator for developers to test and debug their apps before submitting them to BlackBerry App World.

“Developers can also test and debug their apps on a PlayBook running the BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 – Developer Beta.”

The full RIM report from DevCon can be found under 'Press Releases' on www.rim.com.

RIM in the mire

This year has been a turbulent one for RIM, which not only occupies a precarious position in the global market, but whose reputation has also been dealt multiple blows.

Introduced in 1999, RIM's BlackBerry line faces more competition and pressure now than ever before, with more recent contenders making significant inroads into the booming smartphone market.

Adding insult to injury, last week's three-day BlackBerry outage was followed by a drop in the company's share price, of 0.56% to $23.23. Media reports revealed it was down 60% from the beginning of the year.

The careworn company also recently announced it was cutting 10% of its global workforce to trim costs, and that it was also reorganising upper management.

While RIM has seen market gains in African and Middle Eastern regions, it is rapidly losing traction in the mature markets, which are moving increasingly towards Apple's iPhone and handsets running Google's Android.

Amid the market mayhem faced by RIM, Reuters reports suggest that the introduction of its souped-up operating software for its BlackBerry smartphone and PlayBook tablet aims to rescue them from the mire and make them “more formidable competitors to Apple and Google devices”.


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