RIM's Puzzling BlackBerry Windows Play

Today, Research In Motion said it is developing a new software application suite that will let BlackBerry applications run on Windows Mobile-based devices. RIM said they would begin offering the new software suite later this year. Once installed, the software...

April 24, 2007

4 Min Read
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Today, Research In Motion said it is developing a new software application suite that will let BlackBerry applications run on Windows Mobile-based devices.RIM said they would begin offering the new software suite later this year. Once installed, the software will provide Windows Mobile users with an experience virtually identical to what they would receive on BlackBerry hardware, including BlackBerry e-mail, phone, calendar, address book, tasks, memos, browser, instant messaging and other applications developed for the BlackBerry platform. The devices would also be able to connect to BlackBerry services using BlackBerry Enterprise Server as well as BlackBerry Internet Service. What Network Computing Says:

RIM's new announcement is unlike their current BlackBerry Connect program, which extends the features of BlackBerry (mobile data services connections, push e-mail, PIM sync, etc) to an existing handheld device's application platform (such as Outlook for mail and Internet Explorer for Web access).

Instead, leveraging the increased horsepower found in today's Windows Mobile devices, RIM has developed what is, essentially, a virtualized copy of their OS to run under Windows Mobile. This would not only deliver the "experience" of using a BlackBerry on a Windows Mobile 6.0 device (i.e. PIM, integration to BES, etc) but also allow BlackBerry applications to run under Windows Mobile 6. Of course emulating Java-based BlackBerry apps on Windows Mobile will come with some sort of performance impact.

We spoke with Alan Panezic of RIM on Monday, who said the company did not have details of what the performance would be running on Windows Mobile at this time. When asked about if RIM's new software would be delivered to the Windows Mobile 5 install base, Panezic stated that whether or not a port would be made to Windows Mobile 5 would be driven by market reactions. He went on to say that there were numerous technical advantages offered by Windows Mobile 6 that allowed RIM to develop their new virtualized OS.

We were honestly surprised given that many have stated that Windows Mobile 6 really marked a point release, as opposed to a major upgrade, in the development of Windows Mobile. When pressed as to what advantages the new version offered, Panezic was unable to elaborate.

We're actually not quite sure what to make of this announcement. RIM is clearly trying to offer broader platform support for BES beyond its own BlackBerry handhelds and fragmented BlackBerry Connect offering. Using RIM's new software, an enterprise with a current BES deployment could continue to maintain their infrastructure while at the same time allowing customers to transition to Windows Mobile, which many see as a stronger platform for enterprise application development. Thus, PIM, e-mail and existing apps can be handled using the RIM interface while new application development can be targeted at Windows Mobile. That's the theory, at least. The reality is probably much more difficult. For instance, RIM has always had good control for polices around hardware and software because they controlled both the application server (BES) and handheld OS development. It's unclear how much of this policy support will be ported to the virtualized OS, given that their application would most likely not have access to lower levels of the hardware stack. RIM will obviously have to suppress large parts of the Windows Mobile UI experience. Our experiences with other apps, like FMC, that suppress the native Windows Mobile dialer and notifications have been mixed at best. Will RIM be able to deliver the experience of using its OS in a seamless manner, especially given the wide range of form factors and hardware specs posed by Windows Mobile? I'm skeptical, but we'll have to see once RIM makes the product publicly available. Beta testing starts this summer, with a planned release date in the fall. We'll be waiting to get the software into the Real World Labs.This announcement by RIM was about facilitating the semblance of device choice for the enterprise, nothing more. It doesn't extend direct manageability of the underlying OS is almost any discernable way, in other words, if a device wipe occurs it's within the virtualized RIM OS, not within WM6. Besides performance, I wonder how well the battery optimization works. It's risky for RIM to put their virtualized OS on another device where they don't directly control screen size, keyboard, side buttons, and whatever joystick or touch screen interface there may be on the device.

- Sean Ginevan and Frank Bulk

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