When I was in Scandinavia meeting with Opera, along with the lucky BBCool reader who won the trip, I got to talking with them about RIM’s acquisition of Torch Mobile. The guys at Opera are really smart and gave me some insight into what a browser really is. A browser is really a combination of 50-80 mini apps, that all serve various functions such as understanding the HTML/CSS. WebKit is a core technology within the browser. There are other core technologies that can be used to build a Browser: Presto, Gecko, Trident etc.
The acquisition of Torch Mobile meant that RIM now controls a few of the developers who are contributors to WebKit’s source code. The Webkit platform, while Open Source, doesn’t allow just anyone to manipulate the base code. There is a relatively small group of contributors from Apple, Nokia, Google, various Universities, and now RIM.
With WebKit, RIM can and will build a better browser, but that’s just the beginning of what you can do with WebKit. Again, WebKit is just the engine, what you power is entirely up to you. It was around this time that I had to goad the Opera team into what else was possible with WebKit, and what RIM might do with the core technology pertaining to BlackBerry OS 6. While they wouldn’t confirm or deny anything, the most likely possibility, I believe, is a Java-WebOS hybrid platform.
In recent years, RIM have been getting flak from developers about their platform being a pain to code for, and consumers saying it’s not user friendly. In response to this, RIM have been touting Widgets. Coding in HTML is easier, and as Palm have proved, an HTML based OS goes a long way to addressing both user and developer concerns. I doubt RIM would ever go with a full WebOS, because Java provides them with a lot of the security and functionality a good smartphone needs, as well as they have a lot of vested interest in Legacy systems. That being said, the compromise may come true: a hybrid Java and WebOS. This already happens on the desktop where you have apps running on the traditional OS, but web apps running on top.
As smartphones move closer to a desktop experience, I’m going to give it 10 years (at the most) until your mobile OS will be virtually the same as your desktop OS. As for BlackBerry OS 6, RIM are only working on releasing 5.2 this year, so it will be a couple of years until we see OS 6. A lot can happen between now and then, so take the above with a grain of salt. Personally, I would welcome a WebOS hybrid, if it means apps are cheaper, more abundant and better integrated. Also, I tend to get technical terms confused so if any of the above is technically incorrect, it wasn’t Opera giving me the wrong info, it was definitely my illegible notes.