RIM Developer Chief on the Future of BlackBerry, BBX

CIO.com's Al Sacco chats with RIM's new VP of Developer Relations, Alec Saunders, about the new BlackBerry platform, BBX, the future of the existing BlackBerry OS, what this software split means to BlackBerry--and Android--developers, and more.

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Thu, November 03, 2011

CIO — In September, not long before Research In Motion's (RIM) fourth annual BlackBerry Developer Conference--and just a month or so after the company's former BlackBerry development chief stepped down--RIM named a brand new VP of Developer Relations: Alec Saunders.

RIM's Alec Saunders
RIM's Alec Saunders

This morning, I had the opportunity to chat with Saunders, who's entering the BlackBerry world at a crucial time for BlackBerry customers, both enterprise and consumer; BlackBerry developers; and the Canadian company itself. But Saunders, a former Windows product manager for Microsoft and ex-developer relations chief of QNX Systems, the company that built the foundation for RIM's next generation BlackBerry platform, says he "loves the challenge" he now faces of breathing new life into the BlackBerry brand.

Saunders discussed the upcoming, next-generation "BBX" BlackBerry software platform, which will run on RIM smartphones and tablets, as well as details and clarification on the future of BlackBerry for RIM customers, developers and the company itself.

BBX vs. BlackBerry OS

Last month at DevCon, RIM announced and detailed its next generation BlackBerry platform, called BBX. (Read more BBX information from DevCon.)

BBX is the platform name that encompasses RIM's upcoming smartphone OS and the PlayBook tablet OS, both of which are built on a software foundation from QNX Systems--a foundation that's completely independent from the current BlackBerry OS foundation.

So what does this mean for the current BlackBerry OS that's running on millions of BlackBerry smartphones throughout the world?

"BlackBerry OS devices will be in market for some time," Saunders says, "but you'll see a natural evolution away from the BlackBerry OS platform" and toward BBX over time. The idea is that future BlackBerry smartphones will all run BBX at some point.

Unfortunately, because current BlackBerry OS devices do not have dual-core chips they won't be able to run the new BBX OS, which is designed to run on devices with dual-core CPUs, Saunders says.

But this definitely doesn't mean that the BlackBerry OS is "dead," according to Saunders. In fact, he predicts that the BlackBerry 7, BlackBerry 6 and BlackBerry 5 software will run on many BlackBerry smartphones in use during the coming years.

He also expects businesses to continue to employ BlackBerry OS devices for years.

"We expect it will take time for enterprises to migrate to BBX," Saunders says, since many IT shops have already invested a lot of time and money into the BlackBerry OS, and they're familiar with supporting this software.

Bottom line: Though BBX is expected to hit RIM smartphones sometime next year--Saunders wouldn't get specific about release dates--the BlackBerry OS isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

A few more details on the new BBX smartphone, from Saunders: the first BBX handhelds will support BES and native PIM apps immediately on launch, or at least that's RIM's intent right now; and a "BlackBerry Bridge" smartphone app is also expected to be available for companies that wish to employ it for security reasons, though the app won't be required to access BlackBerry PIM apps, as is currently the case with RIM's PlayBook tablet.

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