by Al Sacco

Four Key BlackBerry DevCon Announcements–and What They Mean to You

Oct 19, 2011 6 mins
Mobile Small and Medium Business Smartphones's Al Sacco shares details and insights, and eliminates the hype, on the most significant announcements made at RIM's annual BlackBerry Developer conference.

Research in Motion (RIM) is holding its fourth annual BlackBerry Developer Conference (DevCon) this week in San Francisco. Though today is only day two of the three-day event, the BlackBerry-maker has already made a number of significant announcements that are sure to please both RIM developers and BlackBerry users.

BBX Logo from BlackBerry DevCon 2011
BBX Logo from BlackBerry DevCon 2011

Keep reading for a quick breakdown of RIM’s four most notable announcements, along with explanations of what the news means for BlackBerry developers, as well as RIM smartphone and PlayBook tablet owners.

BlackBerry OS + QNX = BBX–RIM’s Next Generation BlackBerry Platform

“BlackBerry BBX” is RIM’s next generation mobile platform, and different versions of BBX will run on both BlackBerry smartphones and BlackBerry PlayBook tablets.

“BBX-OS” is an entirely new handheld OS, built on a new foundation from QNX Systems, which RIM acquired last year. The software will look and feel similar to the current BlackBerry Tablet OS–also built on QNX code–that runs on RIM’s PlayBook tablet, but it will be tailored for smaller, smartphone displays.

BBX-OS “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,” according to RIM. In other words, the new BlackBerry OS will support existing applications built for the PlayBook and the BlackBerry 7 OS using RIM’s WebWorks and HTML5 developer tools, as well as the additional utilities listed above.

However, despite past reports to the contrary, the BBX-OS will not support older, Java-based BlackBerry applications. This is an unfortunate bit of news for developers who’ve invested a lot of time and effort into building Java apps for the current BlackBerry OS–and for BlackBerry users who have come to rely on these apps. But such apps could potentially be “rebuilt” using newer tools to enable BBX compatibility in the future.

(Read one developer’s take on the BBX-OS lack of support for “legacy” Java apps here.)

BlackBerry Tablet OS Is Now PlayBook OS 2.0…and Will Be “BBX for PlayBook”?

Future versions of the BlackBerry Tablet OS will also be a part of BBX, though RIM hasn’t specified what exactly this OS will be called. Initially named the “BlackBerry Tablet OS,” RIM is now referring to the next version of RIM’s PlayBook OS as simply “PlayBook OS 2.0.” It stands to reason that RIM will at some point rebrand the PlayBook OS as something like “BBX for PlayBook” or “PlayBook Tablet BBX,” though I’m not so sure it’s good strategy to keep switching software names. (Product branding has never been one of RIM’s strong suites.)

As for new features within PlayBook OS 2.0, RIM has finally added the Android app compatibility it promised by summer 2011 and failed to deliver on time–though the OS is currently only available to developers via a limited beta. RIM did not specify when all BlackBerry PlayBook owners will be able to update their tablets and run Android apps.

Along with the limited PlayBook OS 2.0 release, RIM also announced that the new software features a tool for current Android developers, called BlackBerry Plug-In for ADT for Eclipse development environments, which adds PlayBook development support to those environments. The BlackBerry Plug-In for ADT also has a BlackBerry PlayBook Simulator for developers to test and debug their apps before submitting them for distribution via the BlackBerry App World software store, according to RIM.

BlackBerry PlayBook Android Player Repackaging Tools

In addition to releasing the PlayBook OS 2.0 software with support for the Android App Player, RIM also released a cool new set of tools that help Android software developers determine if their software is compatible with the PlayBook OS, and if so, how to “repackage” and submit their applications to BlackBerry App World. (Android developers who want to port their apps to the PlayBook will need to employ App World for distribution.)

The BlackBerry PlayBook Android Player Repackaging Tools seem to be very intuitive and simple to use–check out the above video for a closer look.

Additional features of the Android repacking utilities include the ability to request to be notified if or when additional functionality is added to support apps that aren’t compatible with the PlayBook OS at launch; a tool to quickly and easily convert Android .APK files, a common Android app format, to .BAR files, a format that will run on the PlayBook tablet; and another utility to help set app permissions.

These new tools look remarkably easy to use, and if they work as advertised–and the bulk of Android apps prove to be compatible with the PlayBook tablet–the utilities should go a long way in increasing the number of applications available to PlayBook owners.

Learn more about these tools and/or download the software via RIM’s website.

BlackBerry Jam–Improving and Enhancing the BlackBerry Dev Experience

RIM also unveiled a new program named “BlackBerry Jam” that’s meant to simplify and enhance the overall BlackBerry development experience by providing a “one stop shop” for a variety of RIM developer resources.

BlackBerry Jam is meant to make it easier to obtain the tools necessary to develop for the BlackBerry platform, connect BlackBerry developers for streamlined collaboration, link up devs and BlackBerry partner companies for brainstorm and partnerships, and create opportunities for developers to meet and collaborate, among other things.

This is a much needed resources for developers, since it hasn’t exactly been easy in the past for BlackBerry app creators to locate the tools they needed or quickly find support for developer and/or app distribution issues, etc. The BlackBerry Jam resources should help remove some of the past stigma that the BlackBerry platform is less than simple to develop for.

Check out RIM’s BlackBerry Jam Sessions website for additional details.

And read more about all of the above-mentioned announcements in RIM’s related press release from DevCon 2011.


Al Sacco covers Mobile and Wireless for Follow Al on Twitter @ASacco. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Al at