What we were not seeing last week during Research In Motion’s BlackBerry and PlayBook developers’ conference were any definitive signs of what the company’s existing operating systems might look like as soon as next year. This morning in a post to the corporate blog, RIM confirmed what the lack of evidence clearly revealed: The shipment timeframe for a new edition of the current operating system for RIM’s PlayBook is now February, and even then, it won’t contain the complete messaging capability that users expected.
“We’ve made the difficult decision to wait to launch BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 until we are confident we have fully met the expectations of our developers, enterprise customers and end-users,” reads this morning’s post from RIM’s PlayBook SVP David J. Smith. “We have decided to defer the inclusion of the BBM [BlackBerry Messenger] application to a subsequent BlackBerry PlayBook OS release. We are committed to developing a seamless BBM solution that fully delivers on the powerful, push based messaging capabilities recognized today by BlackBerry users around the world and we’re still working on it.”
The problem appears to be a fundamental one, which Smith later alludes to in his post, and which may be more severe than even BlackBerry’s loyal user base anticipated. As users know, the PlayBook tablet is not a BlackBerry phone per se. In order for PlayBook users to utilize the trademark communications functionality that BlackBerry is known for, they must invoke a feature called Bridge to connect their tablets to their BlackBerry phones. In order to mask the downsides of this dependency, RIM marketed Bridge as a real feature, and even produced a commercial (shown below) touting how nice it is to have Bridge.
Granted, no one expected the tablet to be used as a phone, but it would be nice for it to have at least messaging and e-mail capabilities. Imagine if Apple’s iPad were bound by a Bluetooth tether to the iPhone just so users could reach iTunes from their tablets.
The architectural problem today may derive from an architectural feature of yesterday: One of the hallmarks of BlackBerry security during the last decade derived from how the identity of the BB user was tied directly to the device. In the BlackBerry network, the device ID is the user’s ID. After all, who would need more than one BlackBerry phone for oneself? Wouldn’t that defeat the whole idea of mobility?
If the eventual need for a cross-device portable ID was foreseen, it may have been nixed for what, at that time, were perfectly valid security reasons. For an ID to be portable, its credentials need to be easily provided by the user, using such ordinary methods as passwords and PIN numbers. While BlackBerry does borrow two-factor authentication, it supplements it with strong credentials supplied by the phone itself that no user could easily supply on his own — not without more powerful technologies that could only be made affordable in the future, such as biometrics.
One of the features Microsoft touted in its developers’ preview of Windows 8 for tablets last month was identity portability, enabling a tablet user and a desktop PC user to utilize the same credentials. The feature this opens up right away is background synchronization — utilizing Microsoft’s public cloud to back up data, synchronize media, and move points-of-presence between whatever device the user happens to be on at the time. No doubt we’ll probably see examples of this technology extended to Windows Phone 7.5 this week, as RWW’s Dan Rowinski covers the Nokia World conference in London, U.K..
Suddenly the marketable feature has become cross-device portability, and RIM finds itself sadly on the wrong side of history. While engineers tinker with some kind of solution, RIM’s Smith writes, “BlackBerry smartphone users will be able to continue to use BlackBerry Bridge to securely access BlackBerry Messenger on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet’s high resolution display.”