RIM announces BBX platform, but provides few details

SAN FRANCISCO--Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) co-CEO Mike Lazaridis announced the company's next smartphone platform, BBX, which will run on the company's QNX software. However, Lazaridis provided few details on the platform, including when it would ship in smartphones and what the company's BBX smartphones would look like.

Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis

          Mike Lazaridis

"The whole company is aligning behind this single platform and single experience," Lazaridis proclaimed, noting that BBX would power a range of future RIM devices, including smartphones, tablets and potentially embedded devices inside cars and airplanes. Already, automotive manufacturers, manufacturing companies and others use QNX to run a variety of computer systems.

During a presentation here at the company's BlackBerry developers conference, Lazaridis and a number of RIM executives and partners showed off various aspects of the new BBX platform, which they argued would provide a newly refreshed and more powerful BlackBerry experience.

Specifically, RIM focused on gaming apps for BBX. The company showed off games including Electronic Arts' Dead Space and Gameloft's N.O.V.A. 2 running on the company's PlayBook tablet, which is powered by RIM's QNX software. The company said that porting existing games to BBX would be a smooth process for developers due to the open-standard developer libraries already supported by BBX.

RIM's Lazaridis also pointed to BBX's support of HTML5 technology, derived largely from the company's acquisition of Torch Mobile in 2009. Lazaridis explained that HTML5 would allow developers to transition their efforts from current BlackBerry products to future BBX products.

 "This is your bridge between BB 6, BB 7 and BBX," Lazaridis said. "We're in a leadership position here, with HTML5."

Interestingly, RIM showed off a gaming application (tunneltilt, which involved navigating a ball through a tunnel) powered entirely through HTML5--a notable achievement considering most gaming apps to date must run through a device's native development environment due to the heavy computing requirements most games carry.

"It had to look native, and that's exactly what we've accomplished," Torch Mobile's George Staikos said of tunneltilt.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of BBX looks to be the Cascades function that was developed by The Astonishing Tribe, which RIM acquired in 2010. RIM executives Christopher Smith and Anders Larsson showed off a 3D photo-viewing application using Cascades that featured photos dropping down into a list that users could scroll backwards and forwards through. The executives noted Cascades would be built into BBX and would be available to BBX developers.

Finally, RIM made sure to give a nod to one of its main customer targets: enterprise users. Alan Panezic, vice present of enterprise product management and marketing RIM, said the company's previously announced BlackBerry Balance service would be available through BBX. BlackBerry Balance allows companies that use BlackBerry Enterprise Server functions to provide secure business applications onto users' devices and separate that information from users' personal apps and data.

BlackBerry Balance provides "no compromises for either side," Panezic asserted.

Panezic also announced that RIM would offer businesses their own private storefronts inside RIM's BlackBerry App World. Apps sold through the storefronts would only be available to that company's employees. Such an offering is similar to the enterprise app store effort recently announced by Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ).

RIM's announcements come at a critical time for the company. Last week RIM suffered its worst BlackBerry service outage ever, which killed service to BlackBerry users across the globe for three days. Lazaridis began his keynote presentation with another apology to users for the trouble.

But perhaps more importantly, RIM's share of the U.S. market has been on the decline for the past year. According to comScore, which tracks Americans' cell phone ownership, RIM's smartphone market share has declined from around 40 percent to around 20 percent during the past 12 months. (However, it's worth noting the U.S. smartphone market overall has been growing dramatically during that period.)

To counter criticism of its worldwide position, Lazaridis said RIM sold 165 million BlackBerrys this year, up from 115 million last year. Further, he said the number of BlackBerry users has increased from 50 million last year to 70 million this year.

For more:
- see this BlackBerry post
- see this CNET article
- see this Reuters article

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