How RIM is steering BlackBerry toward QNX

Summary:RIM software CTO David Yach discusses a single BlackBerry OS that works on two very different devices, and the tie-up with Bing that is about more than search

As BlackBerry maker RIM negotiates a tricky operating-system shift, ZDNet UK talks to David Yach, the company's software CTO, about tablets, smartphones and the key mobile issues.

Research In Motion (RIM) is a company making a difficult transition — from BlackBerry, the operating system and platform that has made it a success, to the QNX operating system used in its PlayBook tablet.

It is a transition being made in the face of the explosive growth of Android and the market dominance of Apple's iOS platform and devices. What does the latest iteration of the BlackBerry OS, the company's newest devices, and its announcement of a search partnership with Bing mean for RIM's future?

ZDNet UK sat down with RIM's software CTO, David Yach, and asked him to explain how that tie-up makes BlackBerry different and how the different technologies will work together.

Q: With PlayBook and BlackBerry OS 7, you have got two different operating systems — and several different development systems. What's the advantage and how do you bring that diversity together in future versions?
We've got the PlayBook tablet OS based on QNX. We've got the BlackBerry 6 and BlackBerry 7 OS. Our next-generation BlackBerry platform will be a combination of the best of both. From the PlayBook we'll get that multitasking powerhouse and the multimedia. From BlackBerry we'll get the rich email PIM [personal information management] experience.

We've shown that on PlayBook already — that was what was running inside the BlackBerry player that we announced. How better to prove the BlackBerry player is real if it can run the most complex apps that run on BlackBerry today which are our own email, PIM and calendar apps? That will be our path for taking those apps to market on the PlayBook.

I'm a big believer in continuity. We get continuity for our customers. For our partners who have built apps for our Java environment, the BlackBerry player gives them the capability of carrying those apps forward. We have this robust foundation with QNX underneath on the tablet. So, for example, it wouldn't shock you — since it's still in development — if the BlackBerry player crashes. But when it crashes, the player crashes and the PlayBook keeps running, so all the other apps that are running are still there and you can restart the BlackBerry player but your device doesn't reset the way it does with BlackBerry today. That approach is part of our whole future direction.

What about what RIM has called super apps; apps that integrate information from core BlackBerry apps or show notifications in the inbox? Do they still work? Can they be Adobe AIR apps as well as Java now?
Everything in the player really is the BlackBerry 7 environment carried forward on PlayBook. We absolutely are extending the whole super-app model to the rest of the system. The intersection with AIR? Absolutely, but it is a journey.

Everything in the BlackBerry player really is the BlackBerry 7 environment carried forward on PlayBook.

From my perspective as the guy who has to deliver the software, one of the pure joys of delivering a Wi-Fi-only PlayBook is there's no carrier certification and we're able to innovate and deliver more rapidly. We've already delivered an update. We can effectively release new functionality as it's available rather than waiting for a big-bang release at the end. It gives us a lot more flexibility. We don't have to hold back on things while we're waiting for other pieces.

So I wouldn't be surprised if we have the super-app capability in the BlackBerry player before it fully integrates with the AIR apps, say, but that will come. Clearly, security and super are part of our DNA. We have all this stuff around security, yet somewhat paradoxically...

Topics: Mobility, Smartphones


Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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