Alec Saunders

We caught up with Alec Saunders, VP of Developer Relations, at BlackBerry Jam Asia to gauge the sentiment of local developers and figure out how BlackBerry's developer strategy is evolving.

If you watched the keynote, you'll certainly notice that the overall angle was new. OS 10.2 has been in the hands of developers for awhile, so Jam Asia wasn't so much about launching new tools, but rather demonstrating what was often called a "mobile computing vision." This was done by showing what devs could do right now in a number of ways - using Bluetooth Smart to monitor heart rate devices, or USB host to make an absolutely insane rocking chair/pong game, or secure data transfer to put BBM on a Windows screen. Here's what Saunders had to say about the slight change in direction.

"When we were crafting the keynote, we deliberately set out to create a vision piece. We want people to think of our devices as mobile computing devices. We want them to think of them as a window onto the world around them. We want them to think of them as devices that interact well with other things that are in the real world around you, and do interesting and powerful and useful things for you. We don't want them to just be a media consumption device or a game device."

Though BlackBerry took some time to show off the cool stuff they're making at the show, the point certainly wasn't to hog all the glory.

"The platform itself is a palette, it's a palette of capabilities. We're not the artists. We're the makers of the paint."

That said, the "artists" that were in attendance were certainly in good spirits despite everything happening over the last couple of weeks. Even on the financial front, Alec sounded extremely confident in BlackBerry's future.

"When I started with the company in August of 2011, we had just over a billion dollars in cash. Today, we're sitting at $2.7 billion in cash. Still debt-free. ... Management is prudently managing the company from a fiscal point of view and as we go through this transition I think that's what's required. We're definitely not going away." 

Were the Jam Asia attendees as confident? Though many had obvious questions to ask about BlackBerry's future, I hadn't bumped into one that wasn't eager and happy to be there, and that sounds a lot like Alec's experience. 

"The attendees that I run into are interested in how they can make money on the platform. They're excited to be here. I get a lot of questions about, 'What do you think of developers in this region or that region?' Clearly there's a lot of pride in the different countries, and maybe even a little bit of rivalry. ... I don't see a lot of reflection of the other things around us."

Beyond that, we touched on the ongoing $10k Developer Challenge, but it was hard to say much until the year-long offer wound to a close. SayIt was shown off in the keynote as a dev that met their goal in 90 days, however. Alec also highlighted how the development culture is very different in this part of the world - namely that here, devs can get started and reach a global audience on a shoestring budget, while many devs in North America and Europe are throwing a lot of capital around to get their apps moving.

It would be easy to say that Saunders is just doing his job by putting on a brave face and talking about how happy and excited devs are at the show, but it mirrored my experience at Jam Asia. After all, anybody that had lost faith in BlackBerry simply wouldn't show up. Even with that said, attendance hasn't been down dramatically. Over 1,000 showed up this year, and last year pulled in 1,200. Regardless of numbers, we're all rooting for BlackBerry, and if they can keep winning over big names like Sina Weibo and smaller independents alike, next year's Jam Asia may look even better.