Back in November, I was fortunate enough to meet many of the developers who were expanding the boundaries of what consumers typically imagined when they thought of a “BlackBerry” smartphone. Quite a few people may still consider the device “just a pager” or simply an email-machine they use at work (or just a way to grab a quick game of BrickBreaker in between meetings). Those paradigms are changing, though. In December, RIM posted a 59% increase in profits. If RIM’s BlackBerry Developer Conference was any indication, there are plenty of folks already slinging code for ‘Berry Apps — or interested in doing so to grab a piece of that market.
One company that’s been at the forefront of BlackBerry application development is DevelopIQ. I had a chance to speak with James Shannon, Technical Director and co-founder of DevelopIQ, after the company won the top spot in the BlackBerry Developer’s Challenge for their 7digital Music Store/Player applicaton. Oh, and iff you’re keeping a tally, they also won the “Entertainment on a BlackBerry” category at the in Rome and participating in next month’s . So, in a nutshell, what do James and the DevelopIQ team see in the BlackBerry platform? Why pursue those devices over, say, the iPhone or Android? Will DevelopIQ rule media-centric apps to your BlackBerry?
Let’s find out…
We’ve discussed DevelopIQs 7digital music store application before. In fact, it’s my current top pick for a music app for BlackBerry smartphones. It’s free. You play your own music & playlists from a microSD card. You can search for, browse and purchase new music. Wirelessly. No need to plug the BlackBerry to your computer for anything. The application is really one of the first that really shows off the potential for BlackBerry.
The first thing I thought before meeting James Shannon was that there must be a huge team undertaking the development of the 7digital applicaiton. Afterall, 7digital itself — the online music store — is one of the largest online music/media retailers in the UK. I was surprised to find that DevelopIQ has a team consisting of ; a far cry from the “behemoth” corporate organization I had envisioned rolling out such a polished mobile application. In fact, prior to their music application, DevelopIQ was primarily known for their PaperIQ digital pen soluton. Their digital pen/scanning product is what put DevelopIQ on the path to work with — and focus their efforts on – the BlackBerry ecosystem of devices.
So how did the company come to make the first on-device BlackBerry music player & store app? Opportunity. A project with 7digital morphed into an opportunity to deploy an application that gave a BlackBerry user wireless access to 7digital’s expansive DRM-free music catalogue (similarly, Spotify and Songbird also use 7digital for song purchasing throughout Europe).
During RIM’s DevCon, James shared his own takeaways and thoughts on BlackBerry applications with multiple panelists (quotes below courtesy of the BlackBerry Developer Blog)
Describe some of the unique considerations for making music available on mobile devices.
As an mp3 download store and advanced media player, the 7digital application’s top priority is to maintain the optimum performance of a user’s BlackBerry smartphone – whether it’s by ensuring we’re playing music in the background in a memory & battery efficient manner, or allowing the user to make an impulse purchase, perform a quick download on the carrier network and then automatically replace it with high quality media when they return to Wi-Fi®. We therefore spent considerable time optimizing the download user experience and ensuring we were delivering and playing media in the most memory and battery efficient manner.
Is platform fragmentation a challenge?
Fragmentation is the challenge of mobile. How do device manufacturers innovate whilst providing a consistent platform and form factor for developers to create compelling applications? I actually think RIM does a pretty good job here – we have robust forward compatibility, powerful pre-processor support and device simulators that provide realistic performance when it comes to development and testing. We made a decision to support BlackBerry OS 4.6 and higher, which reduced our challenge to a certain extent. We also needed to take various screen resolutions into account, as well as display rotation. We took the approach from day one to abstract many of the layout/display size factors from the application logic itself, thereby making the application easier to maintain as new devices are launched and new display sizes require supporting – this made it significantly easier.
During the sessions James also elaborated on features that mobile developers could use when designing applications for BlackBerry devices, as well as what DevelopIQ plans with the evolution of their 7digital app :
Robust support for shared libraries on the BlackBerry platform would create better options for inter-application integration, another opportunity for developers to commercialize or open-source their work as well as allowing larger developers to create common libraries shared between several of their applications – thereby saving the end user memory on their devices.
What’s the future of the 7digital app?
Our vision for 7digital is to become the hub of music on BlackBerry – whether it’s acting as the purchase & download gateway for radio or streaming apps, offering the user location-based recommendations for their favorite band’s local tour dates, or integrating your music preferences with your social network. You’ll be seeing several updated releases over the next few months, each integrating feedback from our growing user community and adding additional compelling features.
Being featured on App World certainly helps, but there is still the stigma that a BlackBerry is only for email. DevelopIQ, like many of the companies putting out mobile applications for BlackBerry, see the “holy grail” as being pre-loaded on the device itself. This would keep users from having to discover the application or search to download it. James saw this as a major opportunity for RIM to possibly include some applications that go far beyond just email on the device, so users could begin using the features right out of the box. There are also opportunities to create branded or whitelisted applications with wireless service operators or carriers. The end-game is really to get more device users aware of the application and the fact that they can search, purchase, and download music directly from the BlackBerry.
There is certainly more heated competition in mobile — and especially mobile applications — than ever before. By focusing on one specific platform, it will be interesting to see if DevelopIQ can become the BlackBerry music hub. There is alreadycompetition coming in the form of Kik (formerly UnSynced) and Thumplay, among others, in the BlackBerry ecosystem. The increased market share of Android-based mobile devices — and the everpresent iPhone — only add to the challenges mobile developers face when choosing where to focus their efforts. Will the BlackBerry gamble ultimately pay off for DevelopIQ? That will depend on whether BlackBerry users as a whole embrace media-centric apps like the 7digital store; or whether the ‘Berry is doomed to be put into the “email-only” box.