QNX BlackBerry Tablet OS: detailed and explained

RIM, the makers of BlackBerry have launched a new tablet device called the BlackBerry PlayBook, and with it a new operating system which is currently going by the moniker of the BlackBerry Tablet OS.

That BlackBerry Tablet OS is actually powered by a system called QNX, an operating system that can be found in countless devices around the world making sure, as the company's founder said in a deep dive session at RIM's developer conference in San Francisco, that the "world stays working".

QNX, pronounced "quenix", powers everything from elements of your car to the fountains in front of the hotels in Las Vegas.

So what's it doing in a tablet, and what does that mean for you?

Here we've taken out the hyperbole, and tried to get our heads around the crazily heavy technical elements to break it down into easier to understand, readable pieces.

It's a bluffers guide if you like, that hopefully means by the end of this article you should know exactly what's what when it comes to the new offering from RIM.

It's made by QNX

RIM acquired a company by the name of QNX back in April 2010 from Harman International. QNX made operating systems that were already used in some BMW audio systems, Porches and the US Army Crusher Tanks and it cost the Canadian mobile maker $200 million for the rights to all QNX does. As soon as the deal went through, the source code for QNX systems was closed to the public.

It's not your average OS

QNX's BlackBerry Tablet OS is a Unix-based system, which runs on a microkernel. The difference between a microkernel and standard kernel structure is that it doesn't run each process as a whole, but instead breaks them down into a series of smaller tasks known as servers.

The advantage here is that when third party developers make applications for such a system, they can simply choose not to run the servers that aren't relevant rather than having to deal with parts of the OS that they don't need to.

That saves quite a bit of time and legwork, and the hope is that it'll encourage people to make more apps - an area where BlackBerry has been lagging behind.

It's got proper multitasking

As an obvious dig at the iPad, RIM has been sure to push the fact that the BlackBerry PlayBook does true, full and proper multitasking.

This is down to both the flexibility of the QNX OS and the fact that the tablet itself has got two very important physical attributes to deal with the extra effort required as well.

The first is a whole 1GB of memory and the second is a dual-core CPU. So long as the battery can keep up, it should all be rather effective.

It lets you browse the web in full

The second ribbing of Apple comes with RIM's headline that the BlackBerry PlayBook will let users browse the world wide web in full. In other words, BlackBerry Tablet OS supports both Flash 10.1 and HTML5.

Naturally, choosing to back Adobe's graphic technology might come back and bite RIM in the bottom in terms of battery life and stability, as the Apple boss Steve Jobs claimed but, as yet, that remains to be seen.

It allows tethering

One of the appealing features of going with the BlackBerry tablet system is that it allows for pairing with your BlackBerry smartphone - should you happen to own one.

That can be done over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and it means that you can share BlackBerry enterprise services with the device. It also means that it's incredibly secure as you can control what has and what doesn't have access.

It offers video calling

Yes, that front facing camera isn't just there so you can take photos of yourself. Video calls have been around for a long, long time now and it seems pretty clear that the moment for this means of communication has finally arrived.

With the iPhone 4 ploughing a furrow for all to jump into, RIM has confirmed that you will be able to use the BlackBerry PlayBook to do the same.

It supports multiple users

RIM has realised that while the PlayBook is aimed at the enterprise market, with 1080p video playback and other "consumer friendly" features it's going to be used around the home.

That means the chance of sensitive data falling into the wrong hands (your kids), and so QNX and the Tablet OS will support multiple users and the ability to give access to certain elements of data on three levels.

You can either allow apps and services to access all data, just data that you've selected to share with that app, or just data from that app.

Apps run on their own and together

Every single applications runs in its own memory space on this operating system. That means a number of things, but mainly that if it goes haywire it doesn't affect the rest of the OS. This is great for stability and security. However it's not a complete "sandbox" experience, apps will be able to share data and services between them very easily.

It uses something called "Adaptive partitioning"

Adaptive partitioning, a buzz word if ever there was one, is a system that QNX uses to make sure that no one app can hog too much of the processor power available to you. Why should you care? It means developers can create apps that when running are guaranteed to get the support from the memory and processor that they need, rather than have to fight it off with other apps in the background.

Put simply, when you go to watch a movie, nothing else gets in the way.

Adobe Air, Java and Webkit all present

The way the QNX operating system runs is that applications and programming languages sit on top of it, rather than within it.

That's meant that RIM is able to offer developers the most popular options when it comes to the tools to create cool apps. More importantly it also means that when new tools are created in the future, the system should be able to just add them in very easily.

In practice that should mean that developers have no excuse for not making apps, because in theory they have all the tools, regardless of what they use elsewhere.

Developers will be able to create a virtual version of the PlayBook on the computer

To make it easier for developers to programme apps for the new OS, QNX has created a virtualisation option that means they won't even need to own a tablet to develop for it. Apple and Microsoft do the same. Making it easier to build apps, means the chance of more apps for you.

BlackBerry OS apps will work

Dan Dodge, founder of QNX, has confirmed that current apps will work, although at present (end of September) exact details of that are still to be ironed out.

It's going to eat batteries for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but they are working on it

BlackBerry isn't saying how long the PlayBook's battery will last, which more than likely means that it's not great.

There is an old (6 months) adage that if you use your smartphone/tablet like a laptop the battery will last like a laptop.

QNX is trying to solve this problem by allowing developers to switch off bits of the OS and hardware that they aren't using. Don't need the GPS? Developers will be able to turn it on and off like you would a light switch in your home.

You won't be able to "jailbrake" the device

Yep, that's what Dodge and his associates say. Now there's a challenge.

BlackBerry apps will have two screen mentality

At the announcement of the PlayBook, RIM played heavy on the new tablet "amplifying your BlackBerry". What that means in practice is that you'll get apps that have two screens to them. One for your smartphone, the other for the PlayBook.

The example so far is that you'll be able to output a presentation to a projector while using the PlayBook's screen for reading notes.

QNX is accessory ready

BlackBerry hasn't officially launched any accessories for the PlayBook as yet - think keyboards etc - however it has confirmed to Pocket-lint that accessories will be coming. The software is able and ready to cope with those accessories.

Will it be coming to the BlackBerry smartphones?

We are just at the beginning of what is possible with the new operating system, but if it's as good as RIM says it is, and it's spearheading an entirely new product category for the company, its fair to make the assumption that it will be coming to a BlackBerry smartphone in the not too distance future. Our money is you'll start to see the first QNX powered devices sometime in late 2011 or early 2012, although that is pure speculation rather than fact.

Additional reporting by Dan Sung

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Do you have any further questions? If so, let us know in the comments below and we will do our best to find out for you.



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