RIM plans to offer its developer community a test version of its upcoming BlackBerry 10 OS at a May conference, according to a blog posted on Friday.
Developers attending RIM’s BlackBerry Jam event will receive a limited edition developer prototype device, called the BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha, to prep for the official launch of the new OS later this year.
RIM also said it would use the conference to launch the first beta release of its BlackBerry 10 Developer Toolkit, including BlackBerry 10 Native SDK, BlackBerry 10 WebWorks SDK, BlackBerry 10 SDK for Android Air, and BlackBerry 10 SDK for Android apps.
RIM did not specify how many test devices it will hand out in May, but did stress that the prototype is not a final version of its next-gen mobile OS.
The BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha will run a version of the company’s PlayBook tablet OS that has been optimised for use on smaller devices. It’s designed to give developers a head-start for building apps for BlackBerry 10 smartphones.
"Just to be 100 percent clear – it’s not the final hardware or OS for BlackBerry 10 – it’s a device to help developers get started with designing for what’s coming," the company wrote in its blog.
"What’s coming" is a new OS release that could prove make-or-break for the struggling BlackBerry brand, which has taken a hit over the past few years in light of steep competition from smartphone giants Apple and Google.
According to mobile research firm ComScore, RIM’s BlackBerry platform in 2010 accounted for 43 percent of the U.S. mobile OS market– more than both iOS and Android combined.
But in December 2011, RIM found itself in a drastically different place, with its once industry-leading platform accounting for only about 16 percent of the market. Google’s Android had stolen its crown with 47 percent share, and Apple followed next with 30 percent.
BlackBerry 10, which is expected to grow RIM’s software ecosystem with the inclusion of an Android app player, was pointed to by RIM CEO Thorsten Heins as a product that will lead RIM to a "new future."
"This [BlackBerry 10] is a huge transition all together here. This is new platform, not just a new product," Heins said in an after his appointment as CEO. "We are building a whole new platform for RIM for the next decade. So this is huge. And this is unheard of, by the way, that any company has done this within one and a half years."
Heins referred to product teams that are working "day and night" to perfect the new OS and ensure it delivers a "blow-your-socks-off experience" to both enterprise users and consumers.
"I can’t wait to see it," Heins said.
BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha will be available to developers only – not end users – at its upcoming BlackBerry 10 Jam event, RIM said. The prototype will only be accessible to RIM developers who attend the show, which is typically capped at 2,000 seats.