Research in Motion unveils BBX OS, woos open source community

The BlackBerry DevCon conference kicked off in San Francisco on Tuesday with Research In Motion (RIM) Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis unveiling a brand new operating system for tablets and phones: BBX OS.

The BBX OS is a hybrid of QNX, the operating system found in the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet with the BlackBerry OS, which is currently found on RIM phones.

The operating system will allow developers to work with a large number of open source developer libraries. RIM will seek out various open source libraries and port them so developers can work on them immediately for their BBX apps.

RIM did not reveal much about the appearance or features of BBX other than it combines the best of the phone and tablet platforms. Speakers showed a demo of a photo application app, built on a cascades framework that mimics sorting through piles of photos. The demo looked pretty cool: The photos move fluidly across the display and have a bit of a 3D effect. RIM also placed a lot of emphasis on 3D gaming and HTML5 applications on the new platform.

Canadian mobile industry insiders reacted positively to the announcement. “Introducing a new platform can in a way to improve customer relations and consumer impression which may have been influenced by negative stories recently,” said Corey Jung, account manager of wireless business solutions at Telus Corp.

Alex Christodoulou, a product manager at Toronto’s Xtreme Labs Inc., a mobile app development studio, says he recently switched from the BlackBerry to Apple’s iPhone. “It’s about time for RIM to migrate from the original BlackBerry platform because it is becoming dated,” he says.

The unveiling was brief and many questions remain about the new BBX OS. Such as: When will it be released? Lazaridis did not say when we’ll see the first BBX devices. He also did not say what the new OS means for consumers. Will people with BlackBerry 7 phones be able to upgrade to BBX OS? What about PlayBook tablet owners?

A Bad Year

This has been a tough year for RIM. Millions of customers worldwide experienced outages with their BlackBerry devices last week. Lazaridis said Tuesday that, as an apology, customers will receive $100 for apps in BlackBerry App World.

Meanwhile, the company has been slowly declining in popularity among customers in North America. According to Neilson’s Mobile Insights survey conducted over the summer, 40 percent of smartphones in the United States ran Android, while 28 percent were iPhones. RIM only accounted for 19 percent of phones among consumers.

I’ve written extensively about the need for RIM to completely revamp its mobile operating system. It looks like BBX OS will do just that, but will it be too late for RIM to win over consumers? With the iPhone 4S and iOS5 shipping last week, Google revealing Android Ice Cream Sandwich and Microsoft’s already released Mango update, RIM needs to act fast.

RIM has its work cut out for it to win over developers that will build up a third-party app eco-system, Christodoulou says.

“I think more app developers favour the iPhone API because it is easier to develop and publish app to it,” he says.“The BlackBerry platform is not as intuitive and there are simply more hurdles for developers to overcome.”

If RIM waits too long to ship BBX OS phones, it’s possible that it won’t be able to win over consumers. We’ll be at BlackBerry DevCon 2011 all week, so stay tuned for more information about BBX OS and the future of RIM BlackBerry phones and tablets.

With notes from Nestor Arellano.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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