A Technical Overview of RIM’s BB10

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Image Credit: Blackberry.com

There are many reasons to be excited about RIM’s new smartphone offering set for release in Q1 of 2013. I’ve come across a great article written by Curtis Priest, Partner / President & CEO @ Pixelcarve. Below are his thoughts on why BB10 is a great operating system, and I definitely agree!

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There are some significant reasons to be excited about BlackBerry 10, but first it helps to understand what BB10 actually is and why RIM is taking their time with it.

BlackBerry 10 is built off of the microkernel RTOS (real-time operating system) QNX. QNX is generally regarded among engineers as the most advanced, stable and secure operating system in the world. As such it is trusted by the likes of NASA for mission critical operations, large nuclear power stations, factories, high-speed train control systems, and an endless array of embedded systems that require 0% downtime. QNX has earned its reputation and many in the computer industry believe that if QNX had chosen to compete with Microsoft and Apple and pursue a consumer sales route rather than an enterprise route, the world of computing would be generations ahead of where it is now. This is RIM’s hope now – they invested in a platform that is essentially future-proof because of the way it’s built.

So what makes it so great? QNX is built on a micro-kernel, which means that the core component of the OS (the kernel) only contains the bare minimum amount of code that can provide the mechanisms required to run an operating system. The remaining functions in a typical kernel (Monolithic OS) such as the filesystem, device drivers, application IPC, etc. are instead run outside of the kernel in the user space. Essentially what this means is that the kernel is the only software executing at the most privileged hardware level and is therefore infinitely more secure and stable. Bad drivers, software or executions can’t bring it down.

Micro-kernels also allow for RTOS, which simply means an operating system with guaranteed consistency for how long it takes to accept and complete a task. For a real-life scenario, think about the ABS brakes on a car – they require mission critical specifications to occur in real-time or someone can die, so the system running them has to be able to guarantee the delivery, receipt and execution of messages in X amount of time or it does not qualify at RT.

The benefits of this architecture are too numerous to get into here, but one of the main benefit to RIM is its ability to execute multiple platform runtimes at the same time with high efficiency – this is why you can write an application in C/C++, Adobe AIR, Webworks HTML5, and Java and have them all run natively on BlackBerry 10. The benefit to developers and consumers here cannot be understated. Basically ANYONE with any amount of programming experience can make an app, from high-level web based UI’s to low-level 3D games.

QNX takes their design one step further by also offering POSIX support, which is a family of IEEE standards that helps maintain OS and software compatibility. Being a full POSIX system, and not partly POSIX, ensures it’s a lot easier to develop software for the QNX platform.

So what does all of this mean for RIM? It means they finally have an OS that can not only compete with the current industry, but is definitively more advanced and will be for the foreseeable future. You can’t really compare Android, iOS or WP7 to QNX because they are completely different types of systems. QNX can be scaled up or down as needed from the smallest embedded system to the largest mainframe, and everything in between. It runs in cars, on phones, on desktops and in the enterprise. While Android fights concerns with fragmentation and security, iOS battles its aging architecture and struggles to create a desktop hybrid, and WP7 emerges from its infancy, QNX has already been powering some of the world’s most advanced systems for decades.

QNX makes the perfect companion for RIM because it brings the security that RIM’s customer’s demand, while offering a scalable and robust user experience not currently possibly on any other platform. QNX isn’t just a new OS to modernize RIM’s offering – it’s a platform they can build on for generations for any device real, imagined or unimagined yet.

RIM also acquired a company called TAT (The Astonishing Tribe), which is a world-class UI and design company, who are responsible for putting the face and visual API into BB10. This means RIM have acknowledged that it can’t just work well, it also has to be pretty and “cool”.

When combined with RIM’s enterprise network, BlackBerry 10 will offer a very secure, fast and scalable environment that would be very attractive to both carriers and phone manufacturers. Should RIM choose to license it, one can imagine a scenario where Samsung uses their considerable manufacturing power to build a superphone running BlackBerry 10 that runs through RIM’s network, offering fully secure communications, BBM, push e-mail, compressed data, etc. This would also help offload much of the heavy lifting for carriers, who are under more and more pressure as smartphones saturate their infrastructure. You can imagine the benefits on an international scale.

BB10 is exciting to developers, to consumers, to carriers and maybe even to hardware manufacturers, but at this point it will all boil down to marketing and execution.

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