FRAMINGHAM, Mass. -- With its future up for grabs, Research in Motion at its annual BlackBerry World conference next week will focus on simplifying development for its soon-to-be-unveiled BlackBerry 10 operating system. HTML5 is one key technology in that strategy to create a viable ecosystem of applications for a new generation of mobile devices expected to ship by year-end.
The simplicity is needed because BB10, based on a real time kernel acquired with RIM's buyout of QNX Software Systems in 2010, is a complete break with the software that runs on standard BlackBerry smartphones. Sales of those devices have been collapsing since the third quarter of 2010, and continue to do so, as RIM's recent fourth quarter earnings show. RIM sold just over 11 million smartphones, down 21% from the previous quarter, and 500,000 PlayBook tablets; quarterly revenue was $4.2 billion, or 19% less than the third quarter and 25% less than a year ago.
HTML5 and RIM's larger development strategy will come into sharp focus at BlackBerry World in Orlando. This year, it includes the heavily promoted BlackBerry 10 Jam, an intensive, developer-focused agenda for the new operating system, which has not yet been released in final form.
"It's a bit of a challenge," says Tyler Lessard, formerly a RIM vice president in charge of the global developer program, and since October 2011 chief marketing officer at mobile security vendor Fixmo. "There's very little or no compatibility between the old and new operating systems. Existing apps can't be carried forward to QNX and BB 10. The question is, once the BlackBerry 10 smartphones launch, can RIM have an adequate catalog of apps?"
Next week, RIM will release four beta toolsets for BB10 development, allowing software writers that already have experience in Adobe Air, Android, and HTML to use those same skills to create applications for the PlayBook tablet and the new BB10-based phones that are due out later this year. That's a big pool of potential developers: but they have to be convinced that BlackBerry 10 apps can be competitive with those for Apple iOS and Google Android, and that there will be compelling mobile devices to run them.
"Some developers see it as a good opportunity; others are taking a wait and see approach," Lessard says.
The fourth beta toolset is a native software development kit for BB10, intended for high performance apps and mobile games. RIM will also hand out some number of a "limited edition prototype device" dubbed BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha so that developers can begin designing BB10 apps on something resembling a BB10 smartphone. (In January, the CrackBerry Website posted a photo that purports to show one of the new phones.)
The industry only recently began paying attention to RIM's HTML5 investment, and much of the online commentary sees it as a stop gap, a desperate bid to attract some interest until the full BB10 firmware is released along with the software-development kit for native apps.