RIM is scrambling to gate a tablet to market “before it’s too late’’.
First, for its tablet, the PlayBook, the company needs an OS. Luckily, RIM lives close to one of the great Canadian universities with strong Computer Science and Mathematics programs: the University of Waterloo. QNX was invented there, a very good operating system for embedded applications. Last year, RIM buys QNX from Harman Industries.
Next, hardware. Multi-core ARM SOCs are aplenty and Asian suppliers are at the ready to build hardware to your specs.
Now, we need apps. And for apps we need a development system, specifically one running on QNX.
This is where the madness really starts: the Native SDK, meaning the programming tools required to write high-performance QNX apps in C or C++, isn’t ready for the coming April 19th launch. According to Mobile Beat, “The company has a limited version of its BlackBerry Tablet OS Native Development Kit that will be in open beta by this summer.”
As an interim measure, RIM offers a number of other solutions, called ‘‘app players’’. These are emulators or, if you will, a kind of virtual machine. The app players run existing applications, and new ones can be developed using the tools from the emulated platforms.
So, you have app players for games, for HTML5 apps, Adobe Air and for Blackberry Java used on the company’s smartphones. This is complicated and not developer-friendly, leading Jamie Murai, an experienced app developer, to write RIM a strongly worded open letter. To the company’s credit, the head of Developer Relations, Tyler Lessard, responded quickly and honestly. But Lessard couldn’t really solve the basic problem: as Murai explained in great and vivid detail, developing for the PlayBook can’t compare favorably to the competition, to Android or iOS.
But wait, there’s more.
You’ve noted the curious “application tonnage” phrase in Balsillie’s utterance above. Justifiably, RIM is worried about getting enough applications on the PlayBook. No apps, no sale, as Robert Scoble succinctly explains.
Where do we turn to?
Apple is out of question, but Android is open. Let’s go Android and make their 200,000 apps run on the PlayBook. Problem solved, we have “tonnage”.
This is serious madness, in two ways.
If Android apps do run on the PlayBook, why bother writing for QNX? The PlayBook becomes an Android tablet and QNX no longer matters, right?
In response, Balsillie treats us to more contorted language:
And if you think the whole world’s going to want to develop for Gingerbread [a version of Android], fine. Do I think that’s going to happen? Then why is there a different environment for a tablet? And you know about the performance issues and you know about the app volume issues, cause it’s tough. And that’s why QNX matters.
Android apps will run slowly, [so far inexistent] QNX native apps will be faster.
Because the Android apps are running inside another app player, another emulator. As a result, performance will suffer. This could be a useful stopgap measure: you buy a PlayBook and go to the Android Market for your app needs. Killer QNX apps will arrive later — assuming developers are committing to the ecosystem.
We now move to the second part of the madness: the “going to the Android Market” part is false. It is a deliberate attempt to mislead.
The Android apps won’t work directly into the app player. The developer, not the user, will need to “quickly and easily” port their apps to run on the tablet OS, according to RIM. The same developer will also need to repackage, code sign and submit their apps to the Blackberry App World for approval.
There is more: the PlayBook app player will only run Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) apps. These apps are designed for smartphones, not tablets. According to Google, for tablets you need Android 3.0 (Honeycomb).
RIM succeeded because word of mouth, not advertising, sold the Blackberry. Proud users begat more proud users. What will happen when users “share” the true value of the “running Android apps” claim?
No one could fault RIM for the “iPad surprise”. After decades of misbegotten tablets, no one was prepared for the rise of the new genre.
Reacting quickly, not wanting Apple to gain too much of a market stronghold makes business sense. But launching what is clearly an immature product and trying to compensate for a dearth of applications with a misleading claim of compatibility with the wrong version of Android is insane.
Those whom the gods would destroy, they first render mad…