RIM's new OS shows promise, lacks appstore support

New BBX platform improves apps development and user experience, but BlackBerry maker challenged by need to increase user base and lack of market for apps, analyst notes.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

RIM's new operating system, touted to make it easier for developers to create applications, shows promise and gives users a more dynamic and interactive platform, analyst says, but notes that RIM must now tackle the challenge of increasing its device user base and give developers a platform to market their apps.

Research In Motion's new Blackberry BBX platform is designed to aid developers in creating apps for the company's PlayBook tablet and upcoming smartphones. It bridges the current BlackBerry OS and the newer QNX platform, removing developer "roadblocks" and making it easier for them to build apps, said co-CEO Mike Lazaridis at the company's BlackBerry DevCon conference in San Francisco on Monday.

Jan Dawson, Ovum's chief telecoms analyst, said in a statement that RIM was rebuilding the foundation for all devices, including its iconic handhelds, and BBX showed some "real promise" in the market with potential for a more powerful, immersive and media-friendly platform.

However, the deployment of QNX across the entire line in the coming months and years also meant that RIM was leaving its traditional BlackBerry developers "high and dry", the Australia-based analyst noted.

Dawson added that the company was arguably providing better support for existing Android developers than it was for existing BlackBerry Java developers, as it looked to drive up the number of apps on the platform rapidly. He pointed out that there was no migration path for existing developers, short of starting from scratch with an entirely new development environment.

The Ovum analyst acknowledged that the native SDK (software development kit) was a big step forward in allowing developers to create apps that were optimized for these devices and took advantage of all the hardware capabilities. But while the range of options for development, including those already announced, would be appealing to developers, he noted that it only addressed part of the challenge for developers.

Wanted: appstore and audience
Dawson explained: "The main challenge remains giving developers an audience and a market for their applications, which doesn't exist today in the case of BBX.

"As long as it remains a tablet-only operating system, developer appeal will be limited. And with BBX-based handhelds still some time off, many developers won't feel a pressing need to develop for BBX in the near-term."

He also warned that in the meantime, the platform risked suffering from the same "chicken and egg problem" as many others--where users will not buy a device without any apps, and developers will not develop for a platform that has no users.

BlackBerry users, however, expressed indifference over apps support for the new BBX platform.

Peace Chiu, a teacher, told ZDNet Asia that she liked the smartphone because it looked "professional and cool" and was "easy to type" on. As such, whether apps were available for future BBX-powered devices would not matter or improve her smartphone experience, she noted.

Kyle Lee, a research analyst, said it would depend on the kind of apps available on the BBX appstore, if any. However, he said he was "excited" about the prospect of having access to more apps with the BBX platform.

RIM's share of smartphone market had fallen 20 percent this quarter, through August, from 25 percent in the previous quarter. PlayBook shipments also dropped by more than half last quarter, following criticisms of the tablet's lack of native e-mail support and consumer applications. Deliveries to retailers fell to 200,000 units from 500,000 in the previous quarter.

The BlackBerry maker also suffered a major network outage last week which affected e-mail, messaging and Web services to over 10 million customers in Europe, the Middle East, parts of South America and Africa. Industry analysts noted that the service disruption placed doubt on RIM's reliability amid an increasingly competitive smartphone market.

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