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Developers speak: BlackBerry is making great progress

BlackBerry Developers
By Chris Umiastowski on 11 May 2012 10:01 am EDT
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On Wednesday I had the pleasure of attending the 2nd annual Application Developers Conference, put on by Scotia Capital. There was a big focus on BlackBerry at this event, considering that it was held in Toronto, and what I'd like to do here is report on the main highlights I took away from the event.

I applaud Gus Papageorgiou, the analyst at Scotia Capital who organized the event. Nobody was hosting an event for the financial community to learn about the investment opportunities in the mobile app market. He designed a great lineup of speakers and put on a fantastic conference. I sincerely appreciate him inviting me to attend.

The app market is bigger than you realize

The keynote speaker for the conference was the incredibly smooth-talking Ray Sharma, founder of XMG Studio. Ray is a former Wall Street / Bay Street financial analyst who covered the wireless sector for many years. He was my competitor at the time. But he left the Street to start Extreme Labs (mobile development shop), Extreme Venture Partners (a VC company) and XMG Studio (one of Canada's largest mobile gaming companies). There aren't too many people who understand the financial market and the app developer market like Ray Sharma.

Ray pointed out that the app market is expected to hit $50 billion in annual revenue by 2015. That is a HUGE number. It puts the app market ahead of traditional (console) gaming, movies and the music business.

This is a business that hardly even existed prior to July 10, 2008 when Apple launched the App Store.

So keep this in mind. The app economy is bigger than pretty much every other form of entertainment out there. It's gi-frikkin-gantic.

Ray also explained the current breakdown of apps by category. It turns out that 88% of the entire app market consists of games, social media apps and news. Games is the largest chunk at 47%. This shows you exactly where RIM needs to meet consumers with the launch of BlackBerry 10 (and why we're so excited to have a guy like Anders Jeppsson heading up the gaming side of RIM).

Despite being a Canadian, and intimately familiar with RIM, Ray's XMG Studio does not build for BlackBerry - at least not in any serious way. But I did chat with him about this. His point of view is probably very common among game developers. The BlackBerry Playbook doesn't have enough volume to bother with yet. But when BB10 hits the market, it's a no brainer ... so long as the Unity SDK that his firm uses for game development offers solid support for BB10.

Developers still love iOS and Apple

Apple is still the gold standard for developers, and that doesn't seem to be changing much. The developer tools, documentation, and submission processes are all very simple and well done. Gotta love Apple.

There are really only two complaints people make about Apple. First, they are a strict gatekeeper to their store. They'll reject apps that don't follow their view of how the app should work. You have to do it their way, or go away. Second, the capabilities are somewhat limited. One enterprise-centric developer talked to me about the inability to reliably push emergency messages out to users on iOS. He said the push environment is completely unreliable, and can't be trusted to an app that needs fast message delivery and confirmation of delivery. This, folks, is where RIM shines.

Android complaints

The developer audience at the conference had a love / hate relationship with Android. Given the numbers, it's impossible to avoid the platform. But coding for Android is in no way a pleasure, based on the comments I heard. One developer said that an iOS app required another 3-4 weeks of tweaking to get it to run properly on Android. And even then, it‘s hard to get paid (see below).

The biggest problem developers see with Android is form factor and OS fragmentation. iOS developers hate this, while BlackBerry developers are more used to dealing with it (but still don't like it).

Developers at the conference also felt that Android was tougher to monetize. I don't want readers to take this the wrong way. Developers didn't say that Android users were "poor" or anything like that. But it's true that fewer Android users carry credit cards and fewer of them have extra money to spend versus iOS or BlackBerry users. More Android users seek out free alternatives vs. paying.

Oh, and here's a crazy stat for you. The Android marketplace lets users refund an app purchased within 15 minutes. One developer said the refund rate is about 50%. Crazy, right? How can you make money when half of your customers are only playing around, with no intention to actually pay for your app.

Most of the presenters at the conference believed that there is room for another platform to creep in with meaningful market share alongside Android and iOS. This is a good opportunity for RIM and Microsoft, who are both fighting for 3rd place.

And keep in mind the size of this market. Apps are a $50 billion business come 2015. Being third still makes you a pretty big winner.

BlackBerry is making incredible progress

Overall, the developers at the Scotia conference were very positive on the changes going on at RIM. I think this really goes to show how important a management team is to a company. RIM is currently being led by a new CEO (the mighty Thorsten Heins) and a new VP of Developer Relations (the awesome Alec Saunders).

The developer community is thrilled by the changes Alec has made at RIM. People literally couldn't say enough good things about him. And keep in mind that these comments even came from people who left RIM for dead last year ... people who thought RIM was in such deep trouble nothing to could save them. Now, these same people are feeling much more optimistic.

One developer who admitted to pulling the plug on most BlackBerry development 18 months ago said that RIM's QNX-based BlackBerry 10 OS is "an order of magnitude" better than the other platforms on the market.

Why would he say such a thing? It comes down to the open access to the device that RIM provides, and the powerful multi-tasking OS. I was told that Dan Dodge (the man behind QNX) has promised developers they'll have access to every single API that RIM has. No more internal-only APIs. This is a huge change for RIM, and one that developers are ecstatic about.

In one panel discussion, the question of carrier billing came up. For those unfamiliar, RIM leads the market in carrier billing relationships. Customers can buy apps and have the payment tacked onto their mobile bill. Smarter Apps, the company behind games such as Angry Farm and other popular BlackBerry games, told us that 50% of their sales are now coming from carrier billing. Nine months ago carrier billing was only 5% of sales. Carrier billing is really important for customers who don't have PayPal or a credit card. For the developing markets, this matters.

Here's a direct quote from Smarter Apps director Paul Dumais. "It's so easy to make money on BlackBerry". When asked to elaborate on this, he came back to carrier billing, and the fact that most BlackBerry users in the developed world have credit cards. They are willing to pay for apps, unlike on Android. And more importantly, there isn't a huge pile of competition in App World. So as long as you put together a good quality app, making money is easy.

RIM recently launched a program where developers can have their apps certified, giving them a "quality certified app" stamp of approval. Certified quality apps are guaranteed, by RIM, to earn the developer at least $10,000 so long as the app sales hit at least $1,000 in the first year.

At yesterday's conference, one speaker pointed out the brilliance of this program. It will raise the bar of quality. App developers will now be willing to invest enough time and energy into polishing their applications so they'll be certified as quality apps. The price of $10,000 in guaranteed revenue is worth working for. This program should cut down on the number of poor quality apps in App World.

Cascades, a new user interface framework introduced by RIM in BlackBerry 10, is one way to achieve this higher quality app experience. Cascades should make it easy for developers to create apps with a consistent look and feel.

Extreme Labs was on hand to demonstrate its AccuWeather app, using the Cascades interface, and ported to a BlackBerry 10 dev alpha device. Its Principal, Sina Sojoodi, sung the praises of Cascades. He said that writing the code for the UI is very similar to writing Javascript, and that hardly any of the code was done in C++.

The bottom line ...

Developers are loving the quality of the tools that RIM is putting out there now. It's a complete 180 from the RIM of BlackBerry Past. Huge kudos to Alec Saunders, the QNX team, the TAT team, and all of the RIM people who've been blasting away at BlackBerry 10. Oh, and let's not forget the people in the C-level offices who let these guys do what needed to be done.

It's clear, from talking to developers, that RIM has a solid chance at making a strong comeback. But execution remains the critical factor. Despite all of the positivity and hope in the room, not ONE person debated this view: If RIM fails to execute on BB10, it's lights out. Goodnight. Over.

BlackBerry 10 is RIM's Hail Mary. They need it to go well. And there are no guarantees it will. But if what we're seeing so far is any indication, RIM is climbing back from the dead. They're fighting hard. There are new people at the controls of this machine, and the've been busy building new weapons.

All we need to see now is commercial launch. Let's go RIM. We're rooting for you.

Reader comments

Developers speak: BlackBerry is making great progress

70 Comments

+1000. So Excited about BB10. Everyone looks up to for unique and different things from time to time. I believe Android and iPhone users eventually will try to switch to BB to try new things.

Definitely will pull the trigger on a BB10 device with a keyboard! The 9000/9900 style keyboard is the greatest of all time.

Agreed. But the most important question is will people buy. All this innovation doesn't really mean much if you cannot monetize on it.

And as of right now I say no.

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Porsche Carrera S 991 (Coming soon)

Good coverage and insight Chris... really enjoying the analyst-related material of late. Helps to shine a different perspective on all the changes going on right now.

..."The BlackBerry Playbook doesn't have enough volume to bother with yet. But when BB10 hits the market, it's a no brainer "...

I sincerely hope that Ray Sharma and the rest of the developers don't wait, to begin their development of BB10 apps, until the device hits the market. This is what happened with the Playbook. Not having the 'most wanted' apps at launch would be a killer for RIM.
If I were an app developer I would definitely want my app to be the first available out of the gate. They have the Dev Alpha units now. Lets hope they put them to good use and are prepared for the launch later this year.

Awesome read! I agree this is a whole new Rim. As long as they continue with the "laser like focus" the consumer will be in the endzone ready to catch that hail Mary pass for the Win!!

As a dev, this all sounds about right from my experience. Even while the tools were pretty terrible, I started on BlackBerry only because the monetization is so much better: less app competition but still a pretty big userbase and most of them with money to spend unlike budget Android buyers. And now I've been playing around with Cascades the past couple weeks and I'm really excited - switching from working primarily in WebWorks to native for sure.

Awesome write up. Really enjoyed reading it.
I've never realized the simple point of view you offered up about the quality app incentive. On a whole, developers will indeed strive to make their app a quality app to qualify for the 'insurance'. With TAT, hopefully we see a lot of goodness. If app quality on BB10 is bars above other platform on average, I think they stand a good chance. Hopefully most apps are easy to develop for the platform (most are), but they really need to release all the API's to devs for BB10. For the playbook its understandable not to have them all available, but when It comes to their phones they need to have everything available, and sooner than later. These apps need to come out with BB10. Wouldn't be a good idea to have devs start coding with api"s that are available too near the launch date. The bottom line is that releasing those api's WILL raise the bar for quality.

Great article! Very encouraging to read stuff like this. Getting more and more excited for BB10!

Good article Chris, I enjoyed it. As much as I would love a new BB10 phone "like today," I realize that I have to be patient and let RIM deliver the best possible product with a solid selection of Apps. The fact that Scotia Capital included the BlackBerry platform in such a conference is a definite morale boost for me and many others I'm sure, so it was an excellent choice on your part to cover it. Thanks again.

RIM needs to take a page from the windows phone marketing strategy playbook. They need to have commercials (a lot of them) and they need to compare.

Smartphone customer buy phones in comparison to other phones NOT because of loyalty. So RIM needs to show why theirs is better and stop with the canadian niceness. Windows commercials state "the beta test is over" meaning all the phones out were just test models. RIM needs to say something like all the phones out have been made for kids. If you're grown and serious...BB10.

I agree about comparing phones.

The iOS is like a middle-aged hippie artist. Pretty cool at the time and still doing alright, but a bit dated and not really keeping up with the kids anymore.

Android is the "chaotic cesspool" that tries to be all things to all people, without really doing any one thing perfectly.

BB10 could be the new platform that's advanced, efficient, and easy-to-use.

Good analogy.

BB10 is going to be the freshest OS out there. Think about that: Android and iOS are both over 5 years old, which is ancient in a new device category. QNX & Cascades gets a clean sheet to start with, and gets to avoid "legacy traps".

Apple will likely have to make a clean break with iOS eventually, just the way Blackberry is breaking with its old device line. Android? It's hard to imagine how they possibly COULD build a fresh platform now, with as much fragmentation as there is.

RIM is in a good position. They'd be better if they could ship today, but I still think they have time to work. At least they're putting the time to good use lining up developers.

Excellent analogy! That's almost how I say it but with a lot more words and not as cleanly. I am now gonna use this.

I agree that they need to market the heck out of this but disagree that people do not buy because of loyalty. The only way you can account for Apple's marketshare is because of loyalty. Their customers excuse every misstep they make and overlook anything else that might be out there. Trying to crack that nut is going to be hard. BB10 in my opinion if it comes out strong will be taking market share away from Android and MS primarily, not Apple - at least not at the beginning.

Just look at the tablet situation. Apple said that the 7" form factor of the PB was a joke, and the iPad users all repeated this as gospel. Now Apple is set to release a 7" iPad and all of a sudden it is a stroke of genius that no one else have ever thought of.....

Wow, I consider myself a pretty smart person, but that whole beta test marketing from Microsoft went way over my head until you just explained it to me.

It's actually a really cool idea, but I wonder if it went over other people's head as well...

"If RIM fails to execute on BB10, it's lights out. Goodnight. Over."

All hands on deck, everyone! RIM is in such a high-leverage situation here, that with all that potential and a highly-skilled staff on board, it'll be inconceivable to see BlackBerry 10 fail. LTE, OpenGL, HTML5 and BlackBerry Cloud (TM) (http://img41.imageshack.us/img41/6784/blackberrycloud.png) will be key here, in addition to the obvious.

Great article.

One small point - I don't view BB10 as Hail Mary. Those plays are very risky and are only done if the team doesn't really have a hope of winning.

Rather, this is their last legitimate chance at the end of the game. They haven't lost yet, but they are down a goal right now and they have possession of the ball in their own court.

*If* they don't execute BB10 properly *then* they are in big trouble and will need to do a desperation, pull the goalie, no defenders, bring in the outfielders, hail Mary, type of play.

$0.02.

I agree, in the sense that a "Hail Mary" pass is a risky move made out of desperation in the final minutes (I think of the Studebaker Avanti as a classic example in the auto world). RIM's move to QNX was a decision made when the company was much healthier, and they're still profitable. Agreed, BB10 is not a desperation move.

In fact, if it were, we actually WOULD have seen Colt on the market last fall. I go back to this notion of a 'reset' that happened last fall; SOMEBODY (likely Heins himself) opened his eyes, saw that it was an unfinished product that was being rushed to market, and presented a plan to the BoD for executing properly.

So far, they've done everything right. They've met target dates, they've shown genuine, actual progress on the OS, and it sounds like they're winning mindshare among developers. That last one is crucial, and I think it's a very wise decision on RIM's part to make it the focus.

That's an interesting perspective. I never saw it in that way in regards to someone putting the brakes on the same old ideas. If they had of released something not up to par then that would have been it.

The phrase "Hail Mary" was probably used loosely and out of its usual context, although yes, it would suggest that BB10 has a slim chance of succeeding when the actual odds are more like a game-winning field goal from 35 yards out. All we have to do is kick it through the uprights from a reasonable distance. Not easy, but definitely practical.

+1

Agreed. BB10 is not a Hail Mary... it's definitely a well thought out strategy. Though the longer it takes to get to market, the more it could be perceived as a Hail Mary type of play... simply due to lack of time on the scoreboard.

Chris did use it loosely here. Don't read too much into it. I think these comments are bang on with clarifying it. 

it's more like 1st down at the 40 yard line at the two minute warning. QNX gives RIM good field position but they still need to push the ball across the goal line

"Developers are loving the quality of the tools that RIM is putting out there now."

We are? WebWorks w/ Ripple is a nightmare.

Chris,
As usual, your piece is thoughtful, relatively balanced and well written. Hail Mary, full of grace . . .

Yes they like iOS and Apple but there is so many shit apps there..li get many times my money back because they sale apps that is not finishd yet...never happen to me with blackberry... But remeber nokia was also a same company..and now????????????????

I agree, though I've never read the book. That's one of the reasons I bought the PlayBook, the UI is simple to the point of being elegant. There are a total of seven gestures involved to completely control the device, although those gestures are not readily apparent, once you learn them it becomes child's play. RIM nailed the UI on the PlayBook and I have absolutely no doubt that the simplicity and elegance of that UI will continue in the BB10 phone, the automotive infotainment systems and so on and so on.....

Agree about the gestures not being apparent, have had a few family members and friends need help with this as they didn't follow the startup demo. Can't remember what my PlayBook packaging screen protector looked like but RIM should detail all the gestures on this and hope that new BB10 users read and understand!

Xenrobia,
Agreed. I have an iMac and a MacBook Pro: you still have to learn gestures.
Jobs, and the Mythos that surrounds him, largely due to his death due to his Narcissism, would have you believe it is all so insanely simple. I don't think Jobs ever achieved his ideal. But I believe he thought he did.
The problem with a guy like him is that he was a genius. He was also a megalomaniac, and suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. So, people end up emulating the wrong behavior, believing it is part of the genius, when in fact it is merely dysfunctional...
Having said that, BlackBerry does need to simplify: "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public ".:)

Great read, it provides more confidence that BB10 will be a strong force if promoted strong and often!

Living Bold-ly!

This is a good read; u don't even realize it's long! It's encouraging news...that word "execution" u will b tired of hearing it now re BB10, and for good reason: it is KEY! Everything must come together nicely at launch day: top hardware (GR8 battery) and software + smooth, intuitive, reliable UI, APPS (certainly the key apps), gr8 marketing campaign...I like the all-out, comprehensive, meticulous efforts from RIM now: the situation warrants that! We, the customers, are supporting RIM to deliver fullsomely on BB10...

I posted something on the forum regarding the explosive growth of App World in recent months, and to explore the support from developers. Thank you, Chris. You were obviously thinking the same. Awesome article, and it will highlight the success of the new BB10 platform to developers.

Umi - can I call you Umi or just Kevin can? - I take time off from my urgent tasks to read your articles. Always a joy to read!

App market is huge, so why doesn't RIM have a WiFi only device for kids to use? Apps plus BBM! $150 and no carrier fees!

Great article. I just hope developers are given the tools to work on apps which work in conjunction with QNX in vehicles. It is this competitive advantage RIM has over other mobile platforms.

I'm glad the devs are excited, and sounds like some will be coming back when the BB10 phones get here. You would think devs would bail on Android once a strong 3rd player arrives. Apps cost money!

Umi,
No long winded post from me today.
Just want to say ; I love your articles.
Everybody at Crackberry brings something different to the table,
And you are definitely an important part of the team!
Thanks.

Nice to see that RIM's emphasis in laying a new solid foundation for success is having a positive impact on those who will help it return to a position of leadership. The developers are noticing. If RIM executes and BB 10 meets and even exceeds expectations, then Wall Street will finally notice. Let's Rock and Roll This!!

In related news, this just in from Toronto's Globe and Mail:

"HTML5 ... could be the single most important catalyst in the erosion of Apple's dominance. Right now, developers normally build different versions of their apps for iOS and Android (and to a lesser extent, Windows Phone and BlackBerry operating systems). Each app plays by different rules. But HTML5 is largely platform-agnostic, meaning a single HTML5 app can run on just about any smartphone or tablet using that device's Web browser.

This has two significant implications for the software industry. The first is that Apple will have much less say in how those apps are allowed to behave, because the apps will no longer live inside an Apple-controlled walled garden. Second, devices will no longer be measured by how many apps they have, since HTML5 apps essentially exist on every device. That second implication – even though it probably won't happen for years, given Apple's and Google's lead in the app race – would allow RIM to stop competing on app quantity, where it lags far behind. Instead, the company could go back to pushing the qualities of its hardware, such as battery life, keyboards and security – areas where it still leads the market. If it levels the playing field on software, RIM can go back to competing on hardware."

Read more: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/technology/tech-news/blackberry-10s-...

So, basically, this refutes everything that RIM is pouring hundred's of millions into now? HTML5 means they don't need to pander to developers.

RIM is attacking on several fronts. One is to build the most HTML5 compliant browser in a mobile device. They know this is the future (ex. SAP is building all of their next gen enterprise software in HTML5 right now), but that transition will take a few years. So the other front they are working on is to make it as easy as possible for devs to make high quality native apps right now for the launch this fall and until the general trend of building to HTML5 gains momentum. Some apps will always be better in native code from what I understand, so there will always be a reason to court devs to write for your platform.

Yes, this is what I'm hoping for! Add in GL and a 3D GPU, and BlackBerry is immediately back in the game!

Just purchased more Shares, loved the article and I received an email that my BB mini keyboard I ordered way back when from crackberry is on its way. Life is good.

MY hope is that BB will start to market a phone not anything from the current catalog but something that has everyone excited and of course that phone/tablet will have the much anticipated BB10.

Devs need software.
Consumers need devices.

MARKETING
MARKETING
MARKETING

I would love for RIMM to have the first Tablet/Phone even if it is through bridging.

NOW THAT'S BOLD :)

Rim would need a time machine to have the first Tablet/Phone as I believe the Dell Streak in 2010 was the first Moderately successful one, but Nokia had Tablet phones way back in 2004 and Sony Ericsson had them earlier then that. Plus today there's lots of tablet phones either on the market now or coming from Samsung, Asus, Huawei, ZTE etc...

What RIM needs to make a big push for not only phones but also a renewed push for ALL NEW playbooks - yes plural. They need to compete in the tablet space in order to be a successful mobile computing company and not just a niche smart phone player. Tablets are already growing in the automotive space and several cars on the market today come with iPads as the owners manual. QNX is in cars, and the BlackBerry Porsche and BlackBerry police interceptors prove RIM wants in on automotive (which is a brilliant idea) so they need to trim the tide of the iPad becoming the default automotive tablet accessory. They need PlayBooks to be the default automotive accessory and if they can strike deals with automakers and leverage their position through QNX in auto then they should be able to be the dominant player in that space. But they can't assume that will happen they still need to get consumers interested in the products.

I haven't been very optimistic about BlackBerry lately. I bought some stock when it was trading at around 16 thinking they were a steal. I have bled a lot. I am not sure whether RIMM is gonna die out like Palm. If the market reacts just like Americans to BB phones I will be loosing a lot and so will most of the people still optimistic about it.

Looking forward to it! Really want a Bold 9900, but I don't want to buy an un-upgradeable platform...on the other hand I really like the 9900's keyboard and am not too excited about bb completely going away from their keyboards (something they're most known for). We'll see how BB 10 and their new phones turn out.

There will be BlackBerry 10 phones with physical keyboards. There is absolutely no question about that. But, they will not be the first out of the gate and will arrive in 2013. So here's what you do. Buy a bold 9900 today because it really is a fantastic device and BB OS 7.1 is still a good platform and use it and enjoy it for a year, skip the first all touch model BB 10 phone, and get a Playbook for your BB 10 fix, and then next year, buy the best damn physical keyboard phone in existence with the best mobile computing platform in the world on it when the first BlackBerry 10 equivalent of a Bold launches and sell your Bold 9900 or pass it along to some one in the family.

This is good to read, I was a long time blackberry user who left to iphone but I recently bought a PlayBook and after using this device which I'm typing on now I am excited for what's to come with RIM, loving my playbook! What a great device!

"Apple is still the gold standard for developers, and that doesn't seem to be changing much. The developer tools, documentation, and submission processes are all very simple and well done. Gotta love Apple.

There are really only two complaints people make about Apple. First, they are a strict gatekeeper to their store. They'll reject apps that don't follow their view of how the app should work. You have to do it their way, or go away. Second, the capabilities are somewhat limited. One enterprise-centric developer talked to me about the inability to reliably push emergency messages out to users on iOS. He said the push environment is completely unreliable, and can't be trusted to an app that needs fast message delivery and confirmation of delivery. This, folks, is where RIM shines." Maybe thats the reason that RIM has such crappy apps I.E. Facebook as compared to IOS, Linked In as compared to IOS and even Google+ and the unbelievably pathetic N.O.V.A. game lololll You have a A LOT of stepping up to do.

This was a great post !! Definatley looking forward to everything on the way from RIM. & I really like the blackberry app store, there are actually a lot of apps I use. No complaints here ! It could be better but honestly kudos to the people who still develop for us :)