The second annualmay have ended this week, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have your ‘Berry fix! We’ve still got a quite few upcoming posts from the developer interviews conducted throughout the event, but we wanted to give our overall take on DevCon and highlight not only the announcements made throughout the week — but also the challenges – and what it all means to BlackBerry users in this “wrap-up.”
So, what does the future hold for BlackBerry? In today’s marketplace where RIM is facing continued competition from multiple platforms — from iPhone, Android, Palm, Windows Mobile and Symbian –in both the business and consumer space, how is the Waterloo, Canada-based company responding? The message this past week was loud and clear to the mobile developer community — “Come Build With Us!”
RIM has responded to the competition by not only reaching out to developers, but by promising improved tools to quickly build, deploy, and monetize their applications; as well as the training and access to RIM resources to bring their applications to market. Game On, RIM!
Let’s take a look at the entire week’s worth of announcements from the event, and share our take on the future of the BlackBerry platform.
The Announcements: Where RIM is Going…
The first thing that needs to be said is that the demos and announcements really got the attendees excited. Sure, there has been speculation and a leaked announcement here or there; but RIM really did do a nice job of showcasing how their latest partnerships and moves over the past year will translate into a more robust BlackBerry platform that will be able to support a wider variety of services and content that, before now, no one have thought to associate with BlackBerry (e.g., 3D gaming, Flash, etc).
The catch? It’s all “coming 2010.” Early to mid-2010 to be precise…but that’s not really precise, is it? The keynotes and demos certainly left developers revved up to be able to start building new applications, but there’s no real time frame on when this will all be available. Sure, some services will likely be ready before others. The key for developers is to strike while the iron is hot. If RIM can get the new tools and services (like access to more of the application programming interfaces, or APIs, that will allow developers to integrate features from other applications on the BlackBerry into their own apps) early — like January or February 2010 — then they’ve hit the ground running. If it’s past that date, or even into June of next year, then how many developers will have changed their plans to focus on another platform (like Android, which continues to gain steam from 2.0)?
Bottom line: RIM has to move fast here to retain enthusiasm from the development community. The faster that new applications can be release showing off the improved rich content, gaming and media capabilities on a BlackBerry, the more interest — from developers and consumers — RIM can use to reinvigorate the BlackBerry brand.
RIM and Adobe Partner To Provide Rich Content Applications to BlackBerry Smartphones
Keynote Demo on Flash Tools & Support on BlackBerry courtesy of the
Developing great looking applications that don’t look like they came circa 1990 has not traditionally been something BlackBerry users have associated with the device. Productivity? Yes. Quick and simple messaging? Sure. But rich content like Flash?!? Believe it. Theme and application developers will be able to leverage Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, Flash, and a host of other tools to quickly design great looking and functional applications for the BlackBerry.
The full announcement covered during the DevCon keynote showed off some pretty impressive demos. RIM has really has embraced the development community and come through on some pretty big updates, and really seem to be listening to what developers and consumers want. Developers have complained that developing for the BlackBerry platform has been challenging, to say the least, when compared to using the tools and software development kits (SDKs) from Apple or Google. By partnering with Adobe, RIM is giving designers and developers tools to seamlessly integrate features to quickly deploy BlackBerry applications and standalone web apps, or widgets. Will it turn out as good as the demos portray? Will it be enough to make developing for the BlackBerry as attractive as developing for the iPhone or Android? One thing is for sure, RIM is going out of their way to integrate into the tools developers already use — without having to learn another SDK or development GUI — to make it easier to build apps for BlackBerry.
The catch? The first remarks after seeing these services in action on the demos was how this would all work in the “real world.” The BlackBerry platform has supported multitasking and running multiple applications, but there’s been a huge tradeoff. There is little on-device memory on BlackBerry smartphones. While OS updates — especially with 5.0 — make significant improvements in how applications run on the devices, people were scratching their heads at how well Flash and other media-rich applications would run on a BlackBerry. Would it work, but cause users to have to do a battery-pull? Would users be plagued by more frequent memory leaks or JVM errors?
One developer remarked that since [the] data can reside in Flash, the “heavy media” (e.g., improved video playback services and rich content) could be done without compromising the on-device memory. That’s merely speculation, but it could be the longterm plan RIM is seeking with their alliance with Adobe.
Bottom Line: After the polished demos were finished, many developers — although excited — remarked that they would believe it when they could see it in action. The biggest concern? That the tools would not be released until late 2010. If that happened, a huge window of opportunity may be missed.
OpenGL Support for 3D Gaming on BlackBerry
EA Mobile’s Demo of “Need for Speed” during the Keynote courtesy of the CrackBerry.com team
Quite honestly, when you think of BlackBerry you simply do not associate the device with any real gaming. I realize there are plenty of games available on App World, but comparing a game on a BlackBerry versus, say, an iPhone has traditionally been like comparing the original Atari to a PS3. Sure, the games work and they’re fun, but holy cow look at the graphics on the other…
Then EA Mobile came out and showed a demo of their Need For Speed game on a Storm2 and showed what IS possible. BlackBerry support for means not only better gaming, but vastly improved graphics support. In other words, you are going to see interfaces and games that are (finally) on-par with other current mobile platforms. DevCon sessions further showcased OpenGL with demos featuring the 3D picture viewer Bump Top, the PBA Bowling game, and Super Monkey Ball. Developers can get a head start by downloading the beta SDK development environment supporting OpenGL ES.
The Catch? Like Flash and other media-rich applications, there was concern among developers as to how well OpenGL services and 3D gaming would work in real-world BlackBerry use. Demos look great, but until developers can see how their games and applications translate over to real devices, there is still the worry that users may end up frustrated if the games lag or if there is a need to reset the device (battery-pull) to resolve memory issues.
Another issue: OpenGL support will only be for devices running the 5.0 (or higher come next year) OS. Sure, Storm2, Bold 9700 and the BlackBerry 8530 Curve will have 5.0 out of the gate. Other devices, running older OS’s, may eventually get official upgrades to 5.0. But, and here’s the thing, RIM readily admits that about 70% of devices out there run the 4.2.1 operating system. The number of devices actually running 5.0 will initially be around 10% (or less) — the remaining 20% of devices out there would be running a mix of device operating systems ranging from 4.7 (original Storm) or lower.
Sooooo, developers looking to hit the most devices and users with great looking 3D graphics and games have a much smaller audience of devices. During the developer sessions, RIM was quick to point out that if you are looking to hit the most users with your application you would want to develop for devices running 4.2.1 or higher — meaning that you would not be able to take advantage of implementing many of the new features (including OpenGL for 3D gaming).
The Bottom Line: Based on the demos at DevCon, if BlackBerry can pull off 3D gaming expect to see a very big paradigm shift. Consumers will no longer view BlackBerry as solely a great email/messaging device — but a true multimedia and gaming device that truly integrates into their digital lifestyle. The challenge for RIM is that their own device OS fragmentation can very well hamper this move. If only devices running 5.0 or higher can take advantage of these features, how many developers will risk their livelihoods on building apps for the smallest volume of users out there?
RIM’s Developer Platform Enhancements
The Adobe announcements may have stirred more excitement, but RIM made it official that they have listened to the development community and updated their GUI builders for Eclipse (expected to be released mid-2010). RIM admitted during the DecCon keynote that the first-run at integrating BlackBerry development tools into Eclipse did not work out. The GUI builder for Eclipse (one of the development environments used to create Java applications) has since been completely rebuilt from the ground up. Developers will be able to use drag-and-drop features to quickly add their applications and view their interfaces on various BlackBerry model simulators. Plugins for Microsoft’s Visual Studio will likewise enable .NET application developers to quickly “mobilize” their VB.NET or C# .NET applications to be used on BlackBerry devices. The reason? Again. RIM is making every effort to make it easy for developers to use tools they are already familiar with to quickly create BlackBerry applications within their company — or for consumers.
Theme Builder Studio & Selling Themes via BlackBerry App World
In years past, there’s really been little love for the folks who develop the themes for BlackBerry devices. Theme designers were happy enough using the Plazmic theme builders and finding their own way to sell their custom themes. DevCon, however, finally gave theme developers some good news in the form of a brand new Theme Builder Studio and the fact that people will be able to purchase BlackBerry Themes through App World. Couple this with the support for Adobe design tools, like PhotoShop andFlash, and you should be able to expect a wider variety of themes that go far beyond mere wallpapers and, perhaps –with widgets — more into the realm of user interfaces we’re seeing with HTC’s Sense UI and Motorola’s Blur (MotoBlur).
The Catch? Speaking to a few folks attending DevCon who actually create themes, there was more excitement over the new tools than the App World announcement. Why? Most of the theme developers have their own site and business where they can sell themes without paying RIM. Going through App World is an opportunity to get their themes seen by a wider audience, but at the cost of submitting them to RIM at a price.
Bottom Line: An ongoing theme (pun intended ) from the development community was that until BlackBerry App World comes pre-installed on all of the devices RIM sells, the mobile application store will continue to lag behind other methods — including Mobihand stores and the developer’s own distribution sites. Making it easier to develop the apps and the themes is a huge step in the right direction, but the next step is to make distribution easier — and that means putting App World on devices and not putting the responsibility (or hope) of downloading the device storefront on the on users.
RIM Announces the BlackBerry Academic Program
One of the first announcements made was that RIM was spearheading an academic program for BlackBerry development, administration and support. At first glance, you may say “so what?” Well, by doing this RIM is really positioning themselves — and their development community — for growth. How do all of the professional server and BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) administrators or mobile application developers get to where they are? Usually, it’s through a path of study and work for years within an organization where they, quite honestly, may just be fortunate enough to happen to land in a role that supports BlackBerry devices, servers, and applications. If you want to really learn and focus on how to develop applications for mobile devices as your career — BlackBerry included — where do you even start?
RIM is positioning themselves to start at the source — and take the fight straight into colleges and universities, where the future workforce is already being trained. Want a career developing mobile applications? RIM will be teaching you how. Want to administer the backend servers that companies use to manage thousands of employee smartphones? RIM’s got a class for that In an industry that is sure to see growth (smartphones and mobile applications), I am really excited that RIM took this step. The move will help maintain the relevance — and growth — of the BlackBerry platform. Sure, Stanford has a free iTunes course available for iPhone development, and there are other training options available for mobile application development. This is, however, the first instance I can recall where a company has announced the plan to offer such a focused curriculum on supporting, administering, and developing for their platform directly within the university setting (and not, say, as a “bootcamp” or vendor training done through a separate company).
The Catch? RIM is hopefully going to do a wide approach, and not just focus on the University of Waterloo here ;). There will definitely be a challenge, as college students may not be drawn to the BlackBerry when they’re usually all carrying iPhones. If RIM can draw interest with it’s platform improvements — especially with regards to media on the BlackBerry — then they have the opportunity to train a future workforce that can promote and develop for their products.
Bottom Line: RIM has to build interest in students to want to develop for BlackBerry. To do that, they must highlight opportunity and show what can be done with a BlackBerry. Marketing and perception of the device and the platform have to change. Show everyone what you can do with a BlackBerry! Show folks that you can admin a server using the BlackBerry, then turn around and view movies and play your music on the devices. Spend money on some real marketing, and ditch the U2 concert promotions.
New Payment Methods & Advertising Services
A problem right off the bat for BlackBerry and the App World store, in general, has been PayPal. No, I’m not down on PayPal at all. It’s useful, but to make it the sole method of purchasing applications is, well, a bit outdated. People want to be able to pay for an app however they want. One of the key points Wayne orignally brought up about App World was that it did not make any use of RIM’s own BlackBerry Wallet. Well, it turns out RIM’s been listening. In 2010, RIM will be implementing new payment methods — including integrating BlackBerry Wallet . The key takeaway? RIM’s going to let users take advantage of multiple payment options to make it easier for the consumer to use their BlackBerry smartphones as their virtual wallet.
Developers received good news, too. RIM is going to make it easy for developers to implement in-application advertising in their apps. Developers will also be able to begin including in-app payments. This will allow developers to move towards easier upgrades from free or lite versions to “premium” applications taking advantage of more features. Games would also be able to integrate, if developers chose, the option to pay within the app for additional “advanced” gaming levels. The goal? To help developers further monetize their applications while making it easier for users to upgrade to premium application services, if they chose.
The catch? Speaking with developers, the advertising sounds great — until you begin to do the numbers. What makes mobile advertising in apps great for Google is, simply, because it’s Google doing it. In other words, Google has a mammoth reach. If you are on a computer or smartphone and aren’t using a single Google service, you are by far in the minority. In that regard, most developers that are not Google (OK, all devs that aren’t Google) are not going to be able to make a living using advertising as their main business model. Sorry, it’s true.
The “freemium” model seems to have more developers attention. Basically, a developer can offer a free or lite version of their app (as mentioned above) but offer an upgrade within the application to a premium version that implements more features. The problem with that approach is that we — as users — have been conditioned to expect applications be free, or very low cost. Again, if you’re Google, you may be able to subsist on this business model — but the majority of developers coding and designing for months on end to build their apps cannot do this. The “freemium” model offers a way to get the application out there to users to try (as one person at the conference told me –a live trial with real device users is the very best field trial you will ever get). From there, the developer can make updates and add features — for a price.
The Bottom Line: RIM proves they are listening to developers and making every effort to help their developers monetize their applications. Whether it be advertising or in-app purchasing, RIM faces a paradigm challenge with application pricing, in general. Apple has made a certain pricing structure the expectation for mobile applications. Will developers be able to build the apps they want — and, more importantly — sell their apps through App World with enough impact to make the endeavor worthwhile on the BlackBerry platform longterm?
The Future of BlackBerry…
So, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably gotten an idea of where RIM is heading with the BlackBerry platform. Is it too little, too late? In a time when the iPhone is being embraced into the enterprise — and many companies are at the very least considering supporting Android devices into their own smartphone roadmap — is RIM going to ultimately lose their original audience: the business user? Have the already lost the consumer?
That was my main concern when I made the decision to go attend the BlackBerry Developer Conference. Honestly, in my mind RIM had to do something to give developers a reason to build for their platform. Let’s be honest here, many of the developers there embrace multi-platforms; meaning while they will certainly be creating BlackBerry apps, they’re going to also be prioritizing Android and iPhone apps. It just makes sense. From an Android perspective, both BlackBerry and Android have Java at their base. iPhone? Well, even if the developer has to get into Objective-C to build the app, tapping into the largest mobile application ecosystem with the iTunes App Store is nothing to take lightly.
We’re in a time when the mobile industry continues to explode. Not only are more devices being used for both work and play — they are our computers, hold our music collection, play our videos, and keep us in contact with the world around us. It isn’t, however, the same landscape that RIM entered when they first began churning out. Then, RIM was able to become what could be argued as “king of the enterprise” with their entire platform of devices running through BlackBerry Enterprise Servers (BES) that gave employers the ability to securely manage thousands of smartphones within their company. Government agencies, especially, embraced the BlackBerry with it’s 3DES encryption and remote management. That was, however, then.
Now, we live in a time when companies are looking at the bottom line. More companies are taking the approach of letting employees choose their own smartphone, and then supporting basic services (email, intranet access, etc). Small and medium sized business owners — and even larger corporations — are opting to go this route due to dollars and cents, when it comes down to expensive client access licenses (CALs). Saving money is the name of the game, and long-term return on investment (ROI) for smartphones isn’t as important as the hear-and-now-money-saved. As we all know, that money may not be there tomorrow.
So, where does that leave RIM? The company and their platform must adapt. They must embrace new services and multimedia features on their handhelds — and they must continue to appeal to the consumer. It’s no longer enough to be a messaging tool. People want to play games, music, and view movies on their devices. People want to be able to access a plethora of applications that can do anything they may want at that given point in time. Apps are ultimately driving the device.
The future of BlackBerry looks very bright. As long as RIM doesn’t lose steam and makes good on the promises made, then BlackBerry will not be fading into irrelevance anytime soon. Sure, stock price may fall with the release of new Android devices and the next iteration of the iPhone; but RIM has made the move to be proactive — and direct — with the development community. Whereas Apple and Google put the SDKs out there for developers; RIM is giving the tools to build the apps using things developers are already using. Where Apple may wait for the developer to build the app and then go back-and-forth with the developers on a seemingly convoluted approval process, RIM seems to be going in the direction where the developer will have direct access to RIM’s own development resources.
Does this mean the apps for BlackBerry will be better than Apple’s or Google’s? Nope. Does it mean there will be more BlackBerry apps? Yes. Not likely more than Apple, but, yes, more BlackBerry apps. Developers at the conference were candid enough to say one of their concerns with the Apple platform is they would be in a sea of hundreds of thousands of applications. Maybe they would be found and installed. Maybe not. They realize that there is opportunity for the BlackBerry platform in this stage. An opportunity to provide apps that are not copies of each other, or difficult to locate. That said, it must again be emphasized that almost all the developers certainly planned to develop for BlackBerry, Android, and iPhone
If RIM can fulfill the promise of a new WebKit browser, robust multimedia playback, and gaming, then they won’t be lost to obscurity or sidelined by the other mobile platforms anytime soon. The BlackBerry has needed a paradigm shift similar to the one Palm made with WebOS. Where RIM has an opportunity for improving on that paradigm with their promise of new apps and services, is that they are already embedded in all major carriers worldwide.
Much, if not all of, this shift and emphasis on the development community can be attributed to full community where anyone can hit the ground running to build apps for BlackBerry — as well as get support from RIM throughout the process, or even report bugs directly to RIM., RIM’s Director of Developer Relations. Mike Kirkup has built-up the developer resources from a few white papers or video tutorials to a
The other thing RIM must do, besides attracting developers, is to communicate the “BlackBerry Message.” This won’t be done by hiring pop-stars, trendy teens, or esoteric ad campaigns. It will be done by simply showing what you can do with a BlackBerry! Instant messages, push email, music, videos, games, anything and everything you want to do today — and tomorrow. What struck me during the conference was how passionate and excited the employees of RIM were while presenting or discussing the BlackBerry platform. They are the ones that truly sell “what you can do with a BlackBerry.” Get some ads featuring your employees and real-life users doing all the things that most people just don’t bother to associate with BlackBerry. The things that everyone thinks could only be done with those “other” smartphones If you can do that, RIM, and successfully (and quickly!) implement all these new features you’ve hyped at your Developer Conference then you will finally inject some much needed excitement into the BlackBerry brand.
The future looks very bright for RIM, the platform, and the various device lineup. If there are no missteps, then 2010 should be exciting for BlackBerry users. Game On, RIM! Game On…
Special thanks to all the folks over at CrackBerry, IntoMobile, BerryReview, CIO.com, PinStack.com and the various developers who were kind enough to discuss their own insight and points of view on the BlackBerry Developer Conference (both on — and off — record ).,