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Summary:

There’s a reason why RIM unveiled its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet at a developer event. It’s because the device is the company’s best shot at greatly expanding its developer base well beyond the 300,000 or so developers it now has.

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There’s a reason why RIM unveiled its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet at a developer event; it’s because the device is the company’s best shot at greatly expanding its developer base well beyond the 300,000 or so developers it now has. By adding a new operating system in the BlackBerry Tablet OS, built atop the recently acquired QNX technology, RIM has a new and extremely powerful way to reach out to the new king makers in the mobile ecosystem.

Some, including my colleague James Kendrick, have wondered if a two-platform strategy would weigh down RIM and just add more confusion for developers, forcing them to choose which OS to write for. But in listening to QNX and RIM executives talk about the PlayBook, they see the underlying OS as a way to court way more coders than they ever have before without forcing anyone to choose.

While RIM isn’t talking about this, Tablet OS could be the future of all BlackBerry devices. The more I hear about the OS, the more I think that’s where the company is eventually headed. The Tablet OS, through a Java virtual machine, should enable all the existing Java developers who write Java apps for current BlackBerry devices to write them for the PlayBook. The Tablet OS will also handle web apps through WebWorks, BlackBerry’s new platform that utilizes familiar web technologies like HTML, CSS and JavaScript. That explodes the number of developers that can write for the Tablet OS by drawing in programmers who aren’t dedicated to mobile. Palm’s webOS also offers web developers the same access and that hasn’t resulted in a huge flood of apps, so we’ll have to see how this fares.

The Tablet OS also supports Adobe Flash and AIR apps, so RIM can tap the estimated 3 million Flash developers out there. That also means that some existing Adobe apps will be available on day one of PlayBook sales or will need minimal porting to be ready. The Tablet OS will also offer its own software development kit in the coming weeks for developers who want to dive deeply into the operating system. This will appeal to more hardcore C developers, but it might be enticing because the PlayBook will support the OpenGL API, which will enable high-quality, 3-D graphics. This is all made possible by the QNX-based operating system, which is very modular and allows for easy integration of different environments, and means that Tablet OS could integrate other languages easily in the future. It could potentially support Android apps down the road if RIM chose to. Unlikely, yes, but the platform is that flexible, and it gives RIM options.

The architecture offers a lot of openness but also extreme stability because many of the processes are protected from each other and aren’t allowed to threaten the operations of the OS. What this all boils down to is an open invitation for developers to start building more apps for RIM. Right now, there’s a somewhat paltry number of BlackBerry App World apps (just 10,000) compared to the Apple App Store (250,000+) and Android Market (estimated 100,000+). Now developers have a modern and powerful OS that offers many ways to write apps for it.

Whether they respond is another matter. They’ll want to see how it performs, and what the business prospects are. By the time PlayBook launches, the iPad and other Android tablets will have even more momentum and will be even bigger draws for developers. I talked to several developers at BlackBerry DevCon, and they told me they’re really excited about the power and versatility of the new operating system and see it as a refreshing turning point for RIM. The prevailing mantra these days claims RIM will suffer a long slide, but this modern, new Tablet operating system offers the company the best hope to engage new developers, and ultimately set a new course for its entire lineup.

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  1. WHY WOULD ANYONE BUY A TABLET FROM RIM THAT USES AN ALL NEW PLATFORM WHEN THEY STILL HAVEN’T IRONED OUT ANY OF THE BUGS IN THEIR STORM SMARTPHONE OS.

    I HAVE YET TO GET A PRODUCT THAT WORKS COMPLETELY AND ACCURATELY FROM THIS COMPANY

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    1. Poor you. You clearly did not get it.
      Lesson #1: learn to type in lower case instead of shouting in our ears.

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  2. I fail to see why everyone is gushing over the new Blackberry tablet this morning and reporting it as if it is a real thing. All we’ve seen so far is a vapourware commercial with a lot of renders in it. If you have information that I haven’t seen you might want to show that with the article, but all I’ve seen is some pretty pictures of what they *suppose* using their new tablet will be like. Pure vapourware at this point.

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    1. Yeah, we’re still a ways from “early 2011″ so who knows how it all turns out. But this is a bold new step outlined by RIM and if it pans out, it could be a turning point for the company. So yeah, we need to stay tuned but I think it’s still interesting to monitor.

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  3. Tablet OS? Is that the name they chose? Why are they shooting themselves in the foot? They need to take this OS and RUN, not walk, with it. They need to put it on some “hero” phones ASAP with specs as impressive as the ones in the tablet.

    I doubt the “RIM people” had the ideas to put those specs in it. They were probably suggested to them by the QNX team themselves, but that only means they should use them more, because it seems they are pretty talented and have a feel for the smartphone market more than RIM does (yes, I know RIM owns QNX now).

    RIM took a step in the right direction, but it’s only a first step out of many. If they move fast and promote it big time, they might have a chance to corner the tablet market for enterprie with this OS. They must stay way ahead of Android in what they can offer to enterprise users, if they don’t want Android to win.

    And they really need to put this OS on smartphones, too. The truth is nobody is excited anymore about RIM’s same old blackberries, at least until now. This QNX OS brought a lot of excitement to some people, and they should tap on this. With this OS, RIM is in a better position than Nokia was in 2007, but only if they truly take advantage of it, instead of leaving it as a side project, like Maemo was for Nokia.

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    1. Yep, that’s the name of the OS. That will probably change over time. I agree with your take. This is a big opportunity for RIM to get back into the game with a better OS. Very few devs love BlackBerry OS. But many are intrigued and excited by the new QNX platform.

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      1. Marcos El Malo Monday, October 4, 2010

        Remember how NeXT acquired Apple? Maybe QNX is doing the same thing.

        At this point it’s true that the Playbook is smoke and mirrors, but QNX has a solid basis for a mobile OS. Now, if they only had a Jonathan Ive. . .

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  4. As a developer if they have QNX or Blackberry O/s i don’t care as long as i don’t have to write double code to support RIM tablet vs blackberries.
    If RIM does not support same security architecture as that of Blackberry, they will be same as IPad and Android tablets like new O/S and new market, only RIM’s new O/s will be much newer to the game and will have more ground to cover, before developers can catch on..

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  5. [...] created by the merger of Nokia’s Maemo and Intel’s Moblin Project earlier this year. And RIM has already tapped the QNX platform, which it acquired this past April, for its 2011 entry into the tablet space. If successful, the [...]

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  6. [...] don’t know what line Kik crossed, how will they know to avoid the same mistake? RIM is trying hard to woo developers with its new QNX platform for the BlackBerry Playbook while building more momentum for BlackBerry [...]

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