Technology analysis of the latest gadgets, consoles, and computer architectures.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

RIM Should Make an Android Phone with Amazon

The clock is ticking for RIM, and although they still have money in the bank, the postponed release of Blackberry OS 10 into 2013 does not bode well for the platform. The Blackberry Playbook provides a development platform for applications that could run on Blackberry v10 phones, but with Microsoft contending in the phone and tablet market with Windows 8, it will be difficult for developers to justify work on another proprietary platform.

The Android App Player that runs on the Blackberry Playbook OS 2 is a good option for users looking to RIM for a secure enterprise platform but wanting access to a more diverse application catalog that Android provides. The jailed approach also ensures that the Dalvik engine, the foundation of Android, remains a truly isolated process from core functions of the Blackberry OS, which is beneficial from both security and reliability standpoints.

Being the only remaining player relying on a closed source RTOS at the core of RIM's phones, a significant effort is required to develop and support the Blackberry OS. Bringing in the QNX core and team is not sufficient to meet the demands of the phone market for rapid iteration of high-end hardware. The case can be made to continue developing QNX for Blackberry phones, but user-level applications do not need to be so closely tied to the Blackberry OS.

Given that the QNX team has demonstrated the ability for the Blackberry Playbook OS to run Android's Dalvik engine, what prevents RIM from running Android on their phones? With dual-core being the defacto minimum specs for a modern smartphone, RIM can run both the Blackberry and Android OS's with minimal to no impact to performance. This would allow RIM to focus on what they do best, which is providing a secure and reliable platform for users, while also providing access to the Android ecosystem.

In order to deliver the experience necessary to compete with core Android phones, RIM will also have to create a reverse skin for Android. There is no need for Android to run in a separate, single app container; instead, each app should be displayed as native as possible. This would accomplish one major feat that all other Android OEMs cannot: fork and present running Android apps as separate windows, providing a user-friendly approach to Android multitasking without taking away from the Android experience. The Dalvik engine can still suspend applications when the system is running low on RAM or an app hasn't been accessed in some time, but the user can have more control over how an app runs. Additionally, the core primarily running Android apps can be put to sleep when the device is not in use, and the Blackberry core can maintain system state and provide the secure and reliable phone and data services that users expect, without compromising battery life.

Where Amazon comes in has much to do with their ecosystem, comprising of vast content and an Android application store that can provide compatible apps to Blackberry devices. Jeff Bezos has famously remarked that "he loved his BlackBerry and the ease with which he could find e-mails and respond to people"; even the Kindle Fire is based on the BlackBerry Playbook hardware (likely due to cost and ease of design re-use).

The advantage that both RIM and Palm had with physical keyboards was their ability to develop a UI around the keyboard, not the other way around. Having features such as Just Type in WebOS provides the user the option to type a search query or email response without having to wait for the UI to respond. A Google or Apple search on touchscreen devices require time for a tap on a button or search bar and a soft keyboard to appear before the query can be entered, and a physical keyboard is far more efficient for this action.

By having RIM focus on developing the hardware and core software, Amazon can focus on delivering the content on Android phones through a major phone vendor, and this RIM + Amazon partnership can truly produce a real alternative to Apple, Google, and Microsoft. This could be the phone to replace BlackBerry as we know it today while continuing to provide many of the features many of us long for in a phone. What better way to keep pace with Android development than to fully integrate the engine in a RIM device.