Top 10 Things to Know About BlackBerry Tablet OS

The tablet PC market is heating up, as vendors in the wireless space start rolling out new mobile devices to take on the Apple iPad. While Android tablets are grabbing lots of headlines recently, most notably the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Research In Motion just jumped into the game with its new BlackBerry PlayBook.

But while much is known about Android and iOS, RIM's mobile computing device, aimed at the enterprise, is running a new mobile operating system, and if reports are true, it's one that will eventually power future BlackBerry smartphones. To get you up to speed on RIM's new mobile OS, we've outlined the top 10 things you should know about the BlackBerry Tablet OS.

1. BlackBerry PlayBook based on the little-known QNX Neutrino operating system

You may not have heard of QNX before, but the operating system has been around in one form or another since 1982. RIM acquired it back in April of this year when it bought QNX Software Systems for a sum believed to be around $200 million. QNX has been used in an amazingly diverse range of systems, including Las Vegas hotel fountains, car "infotainment" systems, military vehicles, air traffic control systems and power stations.

2. Uses a microkernel for reliability

The Blackberry Tablet OS is unusual because -- unlike Apple's iOS and Google's Android mobile OS -- it's built around a microkernel architecture using the QNX Neutrino microkernel. In technical terms that means that drivers, the networking stack and file systems all run outside the kernel in memory protected user space, which in theory makes the operating system more stable.

That's because if any of these operating system components or any application crashes they can be restarted without having to reboot the tablet itself. "Reliability, scalability, performance, portability -- they are all a natural product of its microkernel architecture," says Dan Dodge, QNX's co-founder. Although unusual, the OS is POSIX compliant, so it should be relatively easy to port C-based code to it. "In a world of open source projects like WebKit this is important to reduce the cost of porting apps and keeping those ports up to date," Dodge adds.

3. Multi-tasking is built in

The BlackBerry Tablet OS is designed to carry out true multi-tasking. Combined with support for dual-core processors such as the 1GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor which will power RIM's PlayBook tablet, the operating system should be able to run many apps simultaneously with relative ease. To prevent the movie player and other real-time apps from grinding to a halt when too many other apps are running in the background, the operating system includes a technology called "adaptive partitioning." This aims to guarantee these real time apps a minimum amount of processing resources by limited the amount that other apps can access.

4. It provides a secure window to a BlackBerry phone

Remember Palm's ill-fated Foleo large screen mobile device which was designed to work with the company's handhelds? RIM has designed BlackBerry Tablet OS to do something similar, by enabling it to connect to a BlackBerry phone securely using Bluetooth. When connected the tablet will display information which is actually stored on the phone, acting as a large screen viewer and input device without sacrificing the security of the phone. The company says this means owners will be able to "use their tablet and smartphone interchangeably without worrying about syncing or duplicating data."

5. New gestures will be introduced

BlackBerry Tablet OS is a touchscreen operating system just like Android and iOS, but a big differentiator will be the touch gestures the QNX operating system supports. Although RIM isn't saying what they are for now, the company has hinted that some of them will go beyond anything that is possible on an iPad or Android tablet. "There will be new sets of gestures you haven't seen before that open up some pretty exciting possibilities for applications," Dodge said last week.

6. Flash 10.1 is supported

Apple may have turned its back on Adobe's Flash but RIM has ensured that BlackBerry Tablet OS supports Flash 10.1 to the maximum extent possible. The OS also supports HTML5, Java and Adobe Air, and that means the operating system will be able to handle just about any web-based media, games and apps.

7. Older BlackBerry apps will run on it

The new tablet OS will be able to run apps built for older BlackBerry devices. At least that's what RIM are promising: "Flexibility is in the very DNA of the BlackBerry Tablet OS. We've designed it to easily support additional runtime frameworks and virtual machines. For instance, you can expect to see a virtual machine that supports BlackBerry 6 Java applications," is how Dodge put it on the BlackBerry developer's blog.

8. The user interface will be familiar to BlackBerry and Palm users

Looking at the operating system's new interface, you'd think its mother was Blackberry OS and its father was Palm's WebOS. That's because it features a familiar BlackBerry icon view, plus a "card view" of running mobile apps which you can swipe though to select the one they you to bring to the front and interact with.

9. The Blackberry Tablet OS will be great for gaming

The good news for gamers is that BlackBerry Tablet OS supports OpenGL for 2D and 3D graphics intensive applications which, combined with the PlayBook's powerful processors, will make it possible to run graphics-rich games which have up till now been the preserve of PCs and dedicated games consoles.

10. Blackberry smartphones will run BlackBerry Tablet OS in the future

Despite having just introduced BlackBerry 6 as the latest smartphone operating system, RIM has hinted strongly that BlackBerry Tablet OS -- or at least a similar operating system also based on QNX -- will be the OS that the company's smartphones run in the coming years. It's likely that the next version of its smartphone OS -- BlackBerry 7 -- will be an intermediate step before switching to a QNX-based system in two to three years' time.


Blackberry, RIM, Research In Motion, mobile os, BlackBerry PlayBook