When early pre-production units of the BlackBerry "essex" aka "Tour2" started floating around and making appearances on the interwebs, they were still showing the same 256MB of device memory that other current-generation BlackBerry device models like the Tour 9630, Storm2, Bold 9700, Curve 85xx, etc. possess. In those early days of 9650 sightings, it was also thought the device would launch in early-ish 2010. From there, things presumably got delayed a bit for a couple of reasons, one being the brand switch from Tour to Bold and the other reason being a welcomed bump up in device memory from the standard 256MB to 512MB (photo above).
Though the BlackBerry Bold 9650 has yet to be officially announced or released, we've already seen many OS leaks pop up for the device, all of which have been 5.0 builds, clearly indicating the device will initially hit the market with OS 5.0. But with OS 6.0 just around the corner, RIM needed to make sure the BlackBerry Bold 9650 is 6.0 compatible and ready to rock the new WebKit browser in full force when released, so they upped the memory to 512MB which is likely to be the new minimum standard for device memory on new models moving ahead.
This raises a couple of big questions in our heads that are of great interest (and concern) for current BlackBerry owners like... What (if any) in-market devices will be getting the update to run OS 6.0? Even if (some) current devices get 6.0/WebKit, with 256MB of device memory will they be able to run it well or will it become a sluggish experience? For those who listen to our CrackBerry Podcasts regularly, you'll know we've touched on some of the rumors around this a few times now. Going back to Mobile World Congress where RIM gave a preview of the WebKit browser, they showed it running on a BlackBerry Bold 9700. Following that preview, we asked RIM officials on the record in a CrackBerry Podcast what devices would be getting WebKit. While we didn't get a direct answer, we were told there was a reason they showed it running on a Bold 9700, leading us to believe at least the 9700 and hopefully many other current generation devices would benefit from the WebKit browser.
Since MWC we've heard a ton of chatter around this topic - and we're honestly not sure where things are at. We've heard things like the plan was to rollout WebKit to all current generation in-market devices, but with testing RIM has found you need 512MB of memory to keep things snappy. At the same time, going back months and months we heard of older devices like the Bold 9000 (which only has 128MB of memory) running early versions of 6.0 (I'm guessing RIM would try it on every device they can to get an early sense of how well old hardware can run new software before making decisions on which devices will be in the pipe for the update). We've also heard some stranger things - like that the 9700 is the only in-market device that will get the WebKit browser, but the key factor isn't the actual amount of memory (the 9700 has only 256MB of device memory) but rather the type and way in which the memory interacts with the processor in the 9700 is actually different (faster) than in other current BlackBerry devices, which makes a big difference when running something like the WebKit browser. If you think about it, OS 6.0 was in development before RIM ever acquired Torch Mobile (the WebKit browser guys) so it would make sense that RIM would have initially planned for 6.0 to be a fairly broad upgrade to all devices running 256MB of device memory. But it could be that in order to have the WebKit browser running smooth, devices need this newer memory that the 9700 apparently has and future devices will get (and since everybody wants more memory for apps, RIM is taking the opportunity now to double up to 512 going ahead). We could potentially even see a situation emerge where some in-market devices will get OS 6.0, but not all in-market devices will get WebKit. Not exactly a simple situation to explain or understand, so maybe RIM will just make a clean break, but who knows. Again, we honestly don't know where things are at here and what's true or potentially BS - we're just relaying some of the things we've been hearing.
At the end of the day, I don't think it's fair to expect a company like RIM to always have to keep supporting all old hardware with new software updates - if you want to make progress at somepoint you need to cut things off. Look at Apple - even the popular and relatively new iPhone 3G won't get a lot of the iPhone 4.0 updates (like multi-tasking) when it gets released. But at the same time, when RIM is coming off their biggest quarter in history in terms of the number of devices shipped, you'd hope the vast majority of those devices sold in that quarter would be capable of running what we think should be coming out just around the corner or as RIM told us, before the end of the year (they committed to that date for the release of the WebKit browser). But as of now, we really don't have a clear sense if that will be the case or not. If not, I'm not sure how you prevent those who have recently just bought a new device (and signed a contract for it) from getting a pretty sour taste in their mouth when they find out they can't get the latest and greatest software and browser for their device.
Our Hope: Next week is WES 2010. The BIGGEST BlackBerry show of the year. We'll be live on location for the week, covering the news and getting some interviews. Hopefully RIM will clearly address this straight up - I really hope they just tell us what devices are getting 6.0 and the WebKit browser. If not, you know we'll be asking the questions to hopefully get to the bottom of this asap. If you have any other questions you want us to ask (don't worry, we do have a big list started), feel free to toss them into the comments here. We'll do our best to get them answered!