RIM: PlayBook app strategy may look schizophrenic, but there’s a bigger plan at work
Development head Tyler Lessard details why RIM chose the multi-platform approach and how it will build a bigger application ecosystem
Research in Motion’s (NASDAQ:RIMM) approach to applications for the new BlackBerry PlayBook may look like a crazy hodgepodge, but Tyler Lessard, the man heading up BlackBerry’s developer programs assures us there is method to RIM’s madness.
By supporting a plethora of platforms, RIM is exposing its new BlackBerry tablet OS to as many developers and developer communities as possible, something it could never do if it required all apps to be built on the operating system’s native QNX platform, Lessard said. But as more developers migrate to Tablet OS through other channels, RIM is hoping they’ll begin to see its appeal. In short, by building a more open ecosystem, RIM can build a bigger community of potential Tablet OS developers, Lessard said.
“We believe that’s the strategy that will give us the broadest array of developers possible,” Lessard said. And according to him that strategy is already working: “We have thousands of apps at launch because we’re supporting these different platforms.”
RIM’s developer outreach via the Tablet OS has four prongs:
1) The Playbook will sport numerous run-time environments, which will allow developers to bring apps from other platform and resubmit them to BlackBerry App World. Android is the big name draw, but the Playbook will also support runtimes for BlackBerry Java apps (Tablet OS uses a completely different OS, QNX, than its smaller BlackBerry counterparts). Android run-time—or ‘player,’ as RIM calls it—will be available this summer, followed by the Java player later this year.
2) RIM is pushing the concept of cross-platform development. It’s supporting the Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), which will allow developers to bring Flash applications and content to the PlayBook. But RIM’s biggest bet is on an HTML5 initiative called WebWorks, which RIM hopes will trigger an explosion of Web apps run through the PlayBook’s browser.
3) RIM will eventually allow native development on the QNX-based OS beyond the limited circle of developers it has partnered with so far. With no run-time or browser in between, native tablet OS will be able to access the higher-order functions and hardware of the PlayBook, allowing for richer and more tightly integrated apps. RIM plans to release its first software developers kit (SDK) for Tablet OS by the end of the year.
4) RIM is also supporting porting solutions, which would allow a developer to tap into such cross-OS development platforms such as Ideaworks Labs’ AirPlay SDK to build native PlayBook apps without having to learn the ins and outs of Tablet OS. Such apps wouldn’t gain the full benefit of native development, but they’d run directly on top of the OS rather than through a run-time. RIM is also working with Unity Technologies to use its Union cross-platform game distribution platform, though it’s unclear whether Unity will actually deploy games natively in Tablet OS or rely one of the other run-times such as Android.
That’s a whole lot of different platforms, but Lessard said RIM picked each to solve a different aspect of its developer strategy. “QNX is an operating system that was always intended to support other operating systems,” Lessard said.
One of the great things about QNX that we got so excited about was how we could use it as a micro-kernel we could build the other OSes onto.”
For instance, the Android and Java players solve the problem of populating the PlayBook universe and its associated store in BlackBerry App World with a wide variety of apps—a problem for any new platform. By supporting old BlackBerry smartphone apps and the huge development efforts done on Android, the Playbook can tap into thousands upon thousands of potential apps. Customers won’t be able to get those apps through Andorid market or other app stores, but developers need only resubmit their apps to BlackBerry App World, Lessard said. In many cases they won’t even need recompiling, he added—they’ll be ready for download as is once RIM signs off on them.
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© 2013 Penton Media Inc.
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