Developers welcome RIM's BBX roadmap

Attendees at BlackBerry DevCon said the company needed a clear plan and delivered

Developers at the BlackBerry DevCon in San Francisco on Tuesday gave Research In Motion high marks for laying out a clear operating system strategy and standing by its PlayBook tablet.

RIM plans to consolidate its PlayBook, smartphones and even embedded systems under BBX, a single operating system based on the QNX OS, co-CEO Mike Lazaridis told a packed keynote session at the conference on Tuesday. Though the company gave no details about future QNX-based phones or a new version of the tablet, nor a commercial release date for an updated PlayBook OS that it introduced as a beta, attendees were happy to see a firm technology plan.

The BBX OS will be the foundation of the company's software platforms for the future, along with BlackBerry Cloud Services. Developers will be able to choose RIM's native SDK and open-source tools, or the HTML5 Web standard and RIM's WebWorks, to build apps on top of that foundation.

Lukewarm sales and lowered prices have been reported for the tablet, along with speculation that the product would be discontinued in the face of competition from Android tablets and Apple's iPad. But RIM stood by the PlayBook on Tuesday, even giving one out to every attendee.

"We're absolutely committed to the BlackBerry PlayBook. There's no doubt about it," Lazaridis said.

The news will set casual-games company Concrete Software on a path toward developing games for the PlayBook, looking to have those same games run on future BlackBerry smartphones, said Keith Pichelman, the company's CEO. Concrete has been selling games for BlackBerry phones since 2004 and offers them for the other major mobile OSes as well. It had held off on creating for the tablet.

"We didn't want to jump on QNX and then have them kill the PlayBook," Pichelman said.

Developers at the conference also welcomed RIM's emphasis on supporting open-source tools. Increasingly, BlackBerry developers can share software components they create, which helps all the companies that participate, said Aaron Barnes, a developer at the game company Motek Mobile.

RIM heavily pushed HTML5 in its presentations, showing apps with motion graphics and other flashy components. Its focus on the emerging Web platform, which can support offline app use, was another signal to some developers that HTML5 is the way mobile development is going.

"It's a rapidly changing world," said Julian White, CEO of Seregon Solutions. Seregon sells DragonRAD, a cross-platform mobile application development tool.

RIM needed to articulate a coherent vision and succeeded, White said. He and other developers at the show said they were impressed with the technology RIM showed off on Tuesday, such as the Cascades user-interface framework that the company acquired when it bought the Swedish engineering firm, The Astonishing Tribe. White hopes to see Cascades applied to HTML5.

This type of technology is valuable to Medshare, a developer of home health-care management software, because the nurses who use the company's applications typically aren't technically savvy and want an interface that's easy to use, said Michael Pietrantonio, a software architect at Medshare.

The BlackBerry service outage that affected various regions over several days last week didn't seem to deter developers from the platform. Seregon CEO White, a BlackBerry user, said it was an inconvenience but he had access to email for most of the time service was out anyway. He thought media reports had blown the impact out of proportion.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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