BlackBerry 10 launched on January 30th, 2013. Acting CEO Thorsten Heins and Head of Software Portfolio Vivek Bhardwaj were on stage to pull the covers off of a newly engineered platform designed to be far more resilient than the first. I’ll abridge here to say that the old platform was one that Research In Motion grew to a 20 billion dollar company.
It was a rushed step, but an impressive step considering the arena. The launch of BlackBerry 10 against the odds of market analysts and media naysayers. Tens of millions of lines of code – a ground up reengineering of the mechanism with which BlackBerry would concourse for the foreseeable future. Truly innovative, it never has and will never be a downgraded PC OS. It was always mobile, the first look at truly mobile computing.
BlackBerry continues pushing innovative boundaries in areas of the technologies they develop. Of late, BlackBerry has been allocating resources to high yield investment segments, namely software services. BlackBerry has always worked relatively quickly with partners: Scalado, Time Shift integration. Swift Key and the BlackBerry 10 virtual keyboard, Glympse, real time location sharing within BlackBerry Messenger. So when you parlay that with recent news which spans from the acquisitions of Secusmart, Movirtu, Watchdox, to the collaboration of Zoom on BBM Meetings or BlackBerry’s 100 million dollar investment in Nanthealth, BlackBerry has been evolving at a rapid rate. A lot of people don’t see the moves BlackBerry has done in the last three months, let alone the last 12.
So what’s up with BlackBerry 10? We need to go back to the beginning and ask why did they even build BlackBerry 10, especially in the two horse race of Android and iOS, the former which could/can be easily adopted?
We need to really ask the question, was BlackBerry 10 even a good idea in the first place? (Answer: Yes)
The CEO that launched the BlackBerry 10 platform remarks in an extended conversation at the Milken Institute in April 2013:
“The decision we made to build our own platform, in my view, was the best decision we ever made. Because it establishes us as a player who owns the whole stack in a device. We are not dependent on someone giving us an operating system… That’s why we built BlackBerry 10 – because we want to be the best at security.” – Thorsten Heins
Now we could go back and forth on his view, but the fundamental fact today is that BlackBerry 10 is established in this sense. While it may not be a consumer success, the platforms BlackBerry is amalgamating make a lot of sense: BlackBerry IOT, BlackBerry 10 and BES12 – a triforce for the next generation of mobile computing. We must give Thorsten and his teams credit for having the vision (balls) to establish BlackBerry 10 in the first place, and actually bring it to the market.
“When we architected BlackBerry 10, we went to developers and asked them what they wanted. What would make you develop on a BlackBerry? The developers wrote the specification.”
BlackBerry 10 remains very customer driven, and here’s where things get very interesting. Listening to the customers and their needs, it goes back to a directional problem for BlackBerry, something John Chen must seek to navigate so as to deliver against the contrarian view of previous CEO Thorsten Heins who voiced his opinions against going Android. The comments he makes are relevant to recent speculation from Reuters that suggest BlackBerry may move to Android. I tend to agree with Mr. Heins to this day:
“If I were to be on Android today with that product [Z10], I would be a me-too. Carrier’s would look at this and say, ‘How is this device different from Company A or C’ … I would be in the me-too domain. My differentiation potential would probably be hardware design, a little bit of User Interface, but that’s it.”
Now take that statement and think about the BlackBerry Slider device shown off with Samsung components at MWC earlier this year. A device that will ‘allegedly’ be running full Android. Perhaps the mass media is projecting their own business sentimentalities onto BlackBerry. In the similar way that they wrote an obituary of the company, toward self fulfilling prophecy, they fail to understand the basic reality – that just because you’re down doesn’t mean you’re out. This is a point made during a special luncheon hosted by the Greater KW Chamber of Commerce for CEO John Chen. He says the true test is “How good are you when things aren’t going well?”
Perhaps ironically if you take that test and apply it to the Android runtime execution on BlackBerry 10, the answer would be “Good Enough.” But the times are always changing. Is the answer for BlackBerry to go Android? Could this be a factor behind building patented BlackBerry apps on iOS and Android for the BlackBerry Experience Suite? What about the QNX Hypervisor announced back in February?
The answer is right there, but not in the way users expect. If you know about how Android executes on BlackBerry 10, you’ll know they port over the Dalvik VM to QNX. To extend the experience, they hybridize the disparate systems of QNX and Android; BlackBerry did some slick engineering wizardry stitching Linux API calls and shimming them across to work on the QNX RTOS. While good, the implementation has its limitations, especially as Android grows.
More or less, this is the most efficient (read: lowest overhead) way to emulate a passable Android experience with QNX as the host. And while BlackBerry has been executing this way up till now, things are changing. If you followed the growth of Android since inception on the BlackBerry Playbook, at first only one instance of Android could run at any given time. Then an upgrade came to run multiple emulations of Android simultaneously within the software platform. This base reference was abandoned when they created BlackBerry 10. As such, the Android implementation has to be rebuilt. This cycle is what BlackBerry aims to break as they streamline development costs and focus on further investment in security.
Now here’s where David Kleidermacher comes in. Prior to coming to BlackBerry as Chief Security Officer, he was CTO at Green Hills Software. Kleidermacher led a team that developed their own RTOS called INTEGRITY, which received some of the highest security clearances in the industry. INTERGRITY, much like QNX, is a system aimed at the embedded markets. That’s how the bio reads, but the real development success is of a piece of software called the Multivisor. This multivisor (or VMM) is a part of the equation BlackBerry is exploring.
To say that BlackBerry is testing various implementations of Android on reference hardware, testing ARM, Exynos, Qualcomm and other SOC pairings to see how best to deliver their future hardware solutions, is not out of the realm of possibility. We’ve already seen BlackBerry (Secusmart) hardware and the Secusuite software portfolio ported to Android-based Samsung tablets with an IBM secure app container. To further tout the power of BES12, BlackBerry will likely make an incremental move and release Android-based devices.
However, if the implementation were to come by way of the QNX Hypervisor, which is a Type 1 hypervisor, it would function dissimilar to the Dalvik which is basically just an application running on BlackBerry 10 (Android Player). The hypervisor would allow a seamless and secure switch between the two environments, BlackBerry 10 and Android, and would, from a code perspective, be the closest to true compatibility and optimal performance.
Looking at the timing, it’s suggested that BlackBerry may partner with an Android OEM (Samsung) to establish their own software experience suite on flagship hardware. This would entice users on iOS and Android to potentially buy into the BlackBerry Experience Suite (something that may or may not be pushed alongside a BlackBerry Enterprise Server).
BlackBerry Balance already exists on native BlackBerry 10, which allows for “two logical operating systems, that execute totally separate from one another.” One partition is the personal side of the user’s device, the other a securely enabled work partition through the BES. Because of the real time nature of the OS, although these two sides are totally seperate, BlackBerry can bring information into areas like the BlackBerry Hub where you can see work emails alongside social media notifications without being able to bring data across the partitions.
If BlackBerry were able to nail an implementation that utilized Android on the front end through the hypervisor and BlackBerry 10 on the work side, and jump between them seamlessly, that would be the hot ticket. The idea is not to fork Android like Amazon but take stock Android and back it with BlackBerry core experiences. This way, users would have all the Google compatibility they desire while allowing BlackBerry to offer a secure device to the enterprise or end users that may desire one.
Kleidermacher was able to get two instances of Android in a ‘Personal’ and ‘Work’ Mode on his own RTOS. It’s not out of the park to consider BlackBerry pulled him in to pioneer a secure dual persona AndroBerry. The real story here is not BlackBerry or Android; it’s that QNX enables BlackBerry to play with both as they see fit. Kleidermacher is, as stated earlier, the CSO and the end all reality is that an implementation like this would not only serve the handset division but would long-term allow them to be so flexible in the internet of things due to the ubiquity of Linux. Whether we see it in next generation vehicles or the next mobile phones is not the focus. BlackBerry could do a lot with the Hypervisor but it all comes down to the user experience. Floating full Android atop QNX, or having them work together may be a long term crusade toward full hybridization which BlackBerry 10 user have been waiting for.
It’s only a matter of time. Near future, the BlackBerry Experience Suite aims to bring patented BlackBerry experiences to other platforms including iOS, Android and Windows. BB10 favorites such as BlackBerry Hub, Calendar, Contacts, Documents To Go, Keyboard and Universal Search are among the list for the BlackBerry Productivity Suite. Remember, cross platform services like BlackBerry Enterprise Server, BlackBerry Blend, BBM Protected and BBM Meetings are already gaining traction on these platforms.
It’s a pyramid. BlackBerry has always serviced the top of it. Apple worked bottom up and is just starting to knock on the vertically differentiated Enterprise segment. BlackBerry is already established here. Current CEO John Chen has underscored this differentiation with highly enterprise-focused purchases to further carve the unique value proposition of BES12 and BlackBerry 10. They are fully committed to BlackBerry 10; they own the whole stack and will continue creating a true mobile computing experience that is untapped in the mobile technology industry.