Research In Motion Brings QNX to Smartphones

What many of us wondered the moment Research In Motion announced the PlayBook’s QNX-based operating system has now transpired: the Canadian smartphone and tablet company has announced BBX, their QNX-based operating system for both smartphones and tablets – in other words, the expansion of the PlayBook operating system into smartphones.

Digging through all the news coming out of the BlackBerry DevCon 2011, one thing stood out to me: the fact that nothing stood out to me. When Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7.5 Mango, they put up a page with all the new features neatly explained and detailed. Apple, of course, has always done the same, most recently with iOS 5 (or any other product for that matter).

No such thing from Research In Motion. It’s all a long and confusing stream of news and tidbits, without any focus, any direction. Like the several development environments supported on both the PlayBook and the new QNX smartphone platform, it’s almost a microcosm of the lack of focus and direction at the company with two CEOs. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but alas.

So, what’s coming in the new BBX, the marriage between the old BlackBerryOS and the QNX PlayBook platform? Let’s look at the supported development environments first, since that seems to be about all we know.

“Development environments supported by the BBX platform include HTML5 with BlackBerry WebWorks, Adobe AIR, Native C/C++, and the BlackBerry Runtime for Android Apps. Apps built today for the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet will also run on BBX,” a short announcement reads, “Additionally, BBX will include the new BlackBerry Cascades UI Framework for advanced graphics.”

That Cascades UI Framework is interesting, since it’s the fruits of RIM’s acquisition of The Astonishing Tribe, a user interface design company (among other things). The Cascades UI Framework is used to build advanced 3D and 2D graphics and animations for user interfaces.

“Cascades has a unique level of UI building blocks,” RIM claims, “In other UI frameworks, when stepping beyond the set of standard UI components, developers must often resort to low level OpenGLES-commands. Cascades provides higher level building blocks for many of the tricky but application-defining UI scenarios. Features like Flexible List layouts, 2D/3D transformations, mixing of 2D UI and 3D objects are all made accessible to developers.”

While the blurb sounds interesting, the actual stuff RIM shows off in the demonstration video is nothing to get excited about. iOS can already do this stuff, Android can, Windows Phone 7 certainly can – I guess Cascades’ strength will have to lie in just how easy it is to use, since feature-wise, the competition already allows for all these things.

As far as the PlayBook goes, RIM announced the final release of the PlayBook’s native SDK. “The NDK includes support for C/C++ POSIX library and compliance, device events like gesture swipes and touch screen inputs, access to code management systems using industry standard Eclipse CDT (C/C++ Development Tools) and advanced debug and analysis tools,” RIM states, “QNX Momentics Tool Suite, an Eclipse-based integrated development environment, is also included. It provides memory profiling, application debugging, and memory usage statistics to help developers debug sophisticated programs.”

So, there’s that. I’m interested in what BBX is going to look like, since RIM really needs a viable and modern smartphone platform. The more competition, the merrier!


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