Software Engineering a Win: RIM Playbook

RIM is the Rodney Dangerfield of electronic  gadget development – they get no respect. How can a  Waterloo Canada  firm possibly beat the likes of  Silicon Valley stalwarts Apple and Google ? But with the announcement of the RIM Playbook Tablet, RIM scored very big with some  very astute software engineering. But first lets us clarify the biggest play for RIM – buying software developer QNX in the Spring of this year. QNX has been developing Unix core,  UI-based Neutrino OS and likes for  nearly 20 years with   dozens of large industrial clients. QNX have not just a solid but an industrial strength,  GUI robust OS.

So RIM scored both on the hardware and software side with its Playbook Tablet announcement. First, lets take a look at what Gizmodo has to say in one of the best and timeliest overviews of the rapidly evolving tablet scene. First, the comparison table:


Here is what Gizmodo says about the hardware:

It should be noted that there are still some things we don’t know about the PlayBook, and the HP Slate specs are taken from a leaked internal document that hasn’t yet been officially confirmed.

Still, the battlefield’s a lot more clearly defined than it was when we first compared tablets—both real and rumored—back in January. And as its rivals catch up, the iPad’s looking increasingly outgunned.

But even more compelling is what RIM did on the software side.

RIM’s Software Advantage

RIM, having the smallest smartphone library, an incompatible Blackberry OS 6 for its new smartphone, and using new QNX software – and you are talking software advantage?? Yes, and for several reasons.

First, the Playbook announcement was made at the Blackberry Developers Conference. The developer troops got a lot of good news on Blackberry’s development tools moving forward. Yes, there will be two tools sets – one for the smartphone and the second for Playbook tablet. This is what Google is trying to do with Android and Chrome; but Android is running right onto Chrome’s tablet territory.

What RIM has done has created the RIM Playbook Tablet OS [QNX Neutrino adapted for the Playbook] with a number of integration levels to the Blackberry Smartphone OS6. The fast way in is with full Flash 10.1 set of developer tools and HTML5 Web Works technology. But the Tablet OS will also  accept the newly beefed up Java capabilities available for Blackberry OS6 with its own JVMs and Momentics Eclipse development environ. Both Tablet OS and Blackberry OS6 support not just JVM development but also strong links to the RIM Enterprise Servers using JVM based middleware plus cross links to each other.

The combination of features is quite compelling. Consider the following:
1)QNX supports Java, the real deal J2ME, not Android’s lawsuit encumbered Dalvik JVM[this is getting serious see Engadget analysis here]. Java beats the bejesus out of JavaScript in speed benchmarks and Java is the premier enterprise middleware on the server side. Java also runs RIM BB Enterprise Servers that deliver the security, push, and coordinated communication features that are attractive to enterprises and have been adapted as a key ingredient for Social Media and  SuperApps on both RIM’s tablet and the smartphone. Also Java provides huge development libraries including GWT, JavaFX and Java Faces for GUI goodness that is readily ported to the smartphone and the Playbook tablet.
2)QNX support Flash 10.1 and as co-CEO Mark Laziridis hinted – “what happens when the RIM Playbook  shows that Flash 10.1 with hardware acceleration runs very well[like a bat out of hell]”. Suddenly, not only does Steve Jobs look bad; but also RIM’s Playbook instantly has millions of Flash apps – a lot more than the 200,000 in the iPad . With Flash 10.1 support, RIM instantly gains tens of thousands of rich games and app as shown here. This levels the “apps” playing field with Android but especially Apple which has refused Flash on it iPod/iPpad/iPhone lineup.
3)BBM-BlackBerry Messenger services have been expanded to provide a much stronger Social API that allows developers to have instant on connections to millions of Blackberry users. The API services are formidable:

  • Invite other BBM users to download your app, or start a social interaction from within your app.
  • Determine which of your BBM contacts has downloaded your app
  • Access to BBM user profiles, including avatar, status, and location
  • Add an application box to a user’s BBM profile that can display and broadcast achievements and updates
  • Create BBM groups for your app
  • Start embedded chats with BBM contact without leaving your app
  • Sharing content with your BBM contacts
  • Create sub-communities within your app, even if users are not each others’ contacts
  • Allow social interactions within your sub-communities
  • Stream data between users running your app, such as communication, multiplayer or turn-based gaming, and location

This a competitive advantage that Google will be attempting to match with its GMail and Google Apps base of customers; and that Apple has some equivalence with its iTunes and App Store customers. But there will have to be backend server developments from Google and Apple to match the security and profile features that RIM delivers now.
4)The Java connection will have Eclipse, GWT, and a range of libraries and software platforms. This development software integration, unlike Apple’s exclusion, is the advantage of RIMs approach to both tablet and smartphone development software – all those Mac/PC tools like the full Adobe CS5 suite can be applied to RIM platform. So too Java tools – and QNX has some great standard C/C++ tools as well.
5)Finally, if required developers can use the C/C++ features of QNX for bare to the bones development – which gamesters are already choosing to do. One has a 3 tier approach to development on the tablet: – Flash and HTML5 for fast and easy app development. Java and RIM Enterproise server backbone for  middleware advanatges that neither Apple nor Google can touch in the market right now. And then for the Tablet OS, there is down to the iron C/C++ and OpenGL tools for maximum performance.

So the bottom line, RIM is taking advantage of the closed software approach of its number one competitor, Apple, by supporting Flash and Java such that RIM gains instant or rapid “on” for millions of apps.  Then by extending on its own backend BBM and Enterprise Server Backbone,  RIM delivers multitasking, social media and connectivity to the Cloud that will give even Google’s Chrome tablets  room for pause. Finally, Tablet OS has superior size, weight, graphics connections, cameras and a dual core processor . Now RIM has to stand and deliver 1Q2011 – about the time when Apple will be having a iPad refresh and Google Chrome should be also appearing in the market. Tablet Gadget Game ON! Who is almost invisible in the meantime … 1 Microsoft Way.

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