At DevCon Americas in San Francisco, Research in Motion (RIM) announced its next-generation mobile software development platform dubbed BlackBerry BBX, a marriage between the BlackBerry OS and the QNX real-time operating system meant to springboard the company forward in enterprise mobile computing. The wildcard, BBX, has no delivery date but the single-platform central message targets software developers with new features and device support.

Targeting Apps Developers

RIM President and Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis is mincing no words as his team is playing catch-up with Apple and Google in the mobile computing space.  Central to that strategy is apps creation and attracting the talent to build those next generation mobile apps. "At DevCon, we're giving developers the tools they need to build richer applications and we're providing direction on how to best develop their smartphone and tablet apps as the BlackBerry and QNX platforms converge into our next-generation BBX platform."

And the company “gets it,” as the way to attract independent software developers is with an efficient platform to generate the customer downloads that translate into profits. "With nearly 5 million BlackBerry apps downloaded daily, our customers have made BlackBerry one of the most profitable platforms for developers," Lazaridis said.

WebWorks Existing Phone, Tablet Support

Developers that want to support both existing smartphones (running the BlackBerry 6 and BlackBerry 7 OS) and BlackBerry PlayBook tablets can monetize apps on both platforms with BlackBerry WebWorks, which supports apps built on HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. The latest release, BlackBerry WebWorks SDK 2.2 (supporting both smartphones and tablets), is now available and includes updates for the new PlayBook OS SDK, PlayBook Simulator.

The BlackBerry WebWorks APIs are supported by the Ripple Emulator, a browser-like emulation tool that allows developers to test and debug their applications on multiple platforms and devices without having to compile or launch simulators. Starting today, the Ripple Emulator is available in beta and can also be downloaded from RIM's WebWorks Developer site.

Combining the Best of Two Platforms

But BBX is the big news. Poised as the next-generation platform for BlackBerry smartphones and tablets, it combines the best of BlackBerry and the best of QNX and is designed "from the ground up" to enable the real-time mobile experiences that helps 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), and bring "Super App" capabilities to enable advanced capabilities including deep integration between apps, always-on Push services and the BBM Social Platform.

PlayBook Native SDK Announced 

RIM also announced the immediate availability of the Native SDK for the BlackBerry PlayBook (1.0 gold release). The Native SDK allows developers to build high-performance, multi-threaded, native C/C++ applications and enables developers to create advanced 2D and 3D games and other apps with access to OpenGL ES 2.0 and Open AL, as well as device-specific APIs.Applications developed with the Native SDK will run now on the BlackBerry PlayBook and will be forward-compatible on BBX-based tablets and smartphones.

The Native SDK includes support for C/C++ POSIX library and compliance, device events such as 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.

QNX Momentics Tool Suite, an Eclipse-based integrated development environment, is included. It provides memory profiling, application debugging and memory usage statistics to help developers debug sophisticated programs, including hardware accelerated OpenGL applications.

Attracting Game Developers

The Native SDK should help make development and porting of game applications to the BlackBerry PlayBook an attractive proposition for developers. RIM said well-known game publishers, developers and major game engine companies have already started to bring their game titles and applications to the platform.

Also on the gaming front, Scoreloop, the largest and fastest growing cross-platform social gaming ecosystem on mobile, is now available in beta for the Native SDK through BlackBerry Beta Zone. The Scoreloop SDK provides what a developer needs to integrate social capabilities into their native PlayBook applications and includes support for Leaderboards, Game Challenges, Awards & Achievements and Player Profiles.

The technology is customizable and works cross-platform, allowing developers to add as many or as few features as they want. RIM said it makes mobile games more social and profitable.

On the Roadmap

RIM also revealed that a new interface framework dubbed BlackBerry Cascades will be added to a “future release of the Native SDK” that will include custom layouts, animations, effects and 3D graphics. Also announced for future release is Adobe AIR 3.0 support on “…future BBX-based tablets and smartphones.” For non-BBX systems, RIM said the BlackBerry PlayBook supports Adobe AIR 3.0 runtime now. Features include:

  • Encrypted Local Store with Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) to encrypt and securely store sensitive information on the device, such as passwords, keys or credit card information within the app
  • StageText supporting native text controls and the native interaction behaviors of those controls
  • Multitouch and Gestures built into applications to improve usability

RIM also introduced the Developer Beta version of the BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 that includes the BlackBerry Runtime for Android Apps and the BlackBerry Plug-In for Android Development Tools (ADT). This allows developers to bring Android applications to BlackBerry PlayBook tablets.