BlackBerry unveils app development tools for IoT

Working from its QNX platform, the company will offer Project Ion, a cloud-based platform for back-end development

BlackBerry says it can take back-end software development off the to-do lists of enterprises that want to take advantage of the Internet of Things.

On Wednesday, the company showed off concept software for a cloud-based service on which enterprises will be able to create IoT applications. That service, due by the end of next February, is designed to get customers over the development hump to collecting data from networked machines and making use of it to improve their operations. BlackBerry says it will be able to securely manage data from millions of end points across multi-device, multi-platform environments.

The demonstration at a conference in San Francisco marked the debut of Project Ion, a series of initiatives to inject BlackBerry into the hot IoT industry where some of the biggest names in technology are already active. The 30-year-old mobile company, best known for its once-dominant business handsets, comes to IoT through its QNX division, which provides operating systems for industrial equipment and vehicles.

The hope for IoT is to collect data about machines and human activity in real time, from many sites, and derive insights from it to better run operations and serve customers. But with a wide range of sensors and other connected equipment in the field, and floods of different kinds of data, that's not an overnight task. IoT cheerleader Cisco Systems plans to introduce an application enablement platform in the next few months. BlackBerry sees its own opportunity to help make IoT happen.

"Our goal is to be the simplest and easiest way for you to build an Internet of Things application," said Alec Saunders, vice president of BlackBerry's cloud business. "It's a platform that lives in the cloud that you can use to build applications that will allow you to securely collect and manage and analyze the data from the devices that you have in the field."

In addition to the cloud service, BlackBerry will provide a set of APIs (application programming interfaces) for extracting data from devices and from the cloud, as well as an architecture for agents to run on connected devices.

BlackBerry says the platform is powered by QNX technology and by BlackBerry's secure enterprise mobile management smarts, but it's not limited to connected devices that run QNX. For the device agents, the company will offer reference implementations for QNX as well as for Linux and give developers other ways to build agents for particular devices, Saunders said.

One major problem in IoT is the proliferation of specialized legacy protocols. BlackBerry has a mechanism to convert incoming data to a normalized format, and as a member of the Industrial Internet Consortium, it's working with Cisco and others to push for standards, Saunders said.

BlackBerry has invited developers and partners to participate in a private preview of the service starting in June and will launch a beta test in the latter part of this year. The service should be commercially available by the end of BlackBerry's fiscal year, which ends in February, Saunders said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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