DDH Software’s HanDBase has long been one of the top database programs for other mobile platforms, such as Palm, Windows Mobile and Symbian. Now that HanDBase is available for BlackBerry users, could you give us an introduction of your company and the driving philosophy behind HanDBase?
Dave: Sure- DDH Software’s been in this space since 1997, when Palm (then Pilot’s) and BlackBerry were very new concepts. At the time, the company was just me, and I was doing the coding on my lunch hour and at night, and I started by bringing the first multi-language translator program to the Pilot. Thankfully, that grew fast into a full time endeavor with the introduction of several other products leading up to the launch of HanDBase in mid-1998. We experienced our most rapid growth from late 1999 through 2002 when the PalmPilot became a household name and was the “iPod” of that era.
HanDBase was birthed out of a need of some customers for something more than simple flat-file lists of data on a handheld. It was mainly physicians and the medical community in general that fueled our explosive growth at that time as we were fortunate enough to become one of a few applications that most every doctor wanted in their virtual “toolbox”. And as this industry grew, we grew right along with it, expanding our staff and delivering our solution to other platforms along the way. Thankfully the response has always been great, and many of the awards we’ve received have been on the newer platforms as well as the originals.
It’s always been difficult to describe HanDBase in short form. I could accurately say that HanDBase lets you track just about anything you’d need to, can be easily adapted to replace a large percentage of applications running on most PDAs and smartphones out there, and can help people immensely in their business and personal lives. But it sounds like something too good to be true, too much of a magic pill of applications. On the flip side, if we focus on just a few things you can do with it, from managing rounds at a hospital, to tracking your time and billing on various projects, to tracking customers and sales calls (ala CRM), to tracking a list of movies you’d like to rent, groceries you need to buy, favorite recipes, Bible verses, or jokes, we’d also be missing out on a lot of the potential uses and needs of each individual user.
BlackBerry devices are running Java while other mobile platforms such as Palm and Windows mobile are using C++. How was the development?
Dave: To be honest, it was the fact that BlackBerry ran Java that has kept us from delivering a solution all this time. When you make a huge investment in millions of lines of C++ code, it makes sense to utilize that in as many places as you can. And when we first looked into BlackBerry development there actually was still a C compiler for it. But it was just then that the newer devices switched to being Java only, so we steered clear for awhile longer, watching the BlackBerry opportunity grow and grow into a phenomenon. It was as we discovered many, many existing users were moving to this platform that we decided we should revisit it and see how much work it would be to rewrite all of HanDBase in Java!
We’ve been pleasantly surprised at how the process went. We have some very bright programmers working on the project, and they have been very adept at porting the key features of HanDBase on the BlackBerry with a minimum of fuss!
Feature-wise, how does HanDBase for BlackBerry compare to the versions for other platforms?
Dave: That’s something where the all new code has hurt us a bit. We decided to release the product with less features than some of the other platforms because we felt it was better to meet the need of users now and expand upon the features as the product matured. I’ve learned in my years doing software development (both on my own and working for other companies) that when you try to deliver the entire dream-list of features you have as version 1.0 you often miss the opportunity when someone else beats you to it, or the market moves on without you.
So it’s better to be part of the excitement, and I think most customers feel that way too. It’s fun seeing the app you love get better and better. Specifically HanDBase for BlackBerry is missing some of the security features like Password protection and Encryption (which are covered pretty well by the devices themselves), the ability to design databases and creating custom views on the BlackBerry itself. But we coupled in a great desktop application that can do all of this and much more like printing databases and reports, importing and exporting data, and the ability to synchronize databases between BlackBerry handsets and popular programs like Microsoft Access, Excel, MySQL, SQL Server, Oracle, etc. So I think we’re still able to offer an incredibly powerful solution right now! And I’m looking forward to seeing where the demand is for adding features. We’ve already received tons of great feedback and requests from new users.
BlackBerry software is usually sold online or OTA (over the air). What are some of the benefits, and challenges, of this type of distribution?
There are many benefits for most applications as it increases the reach and ease of installation. For us, it presents a bit more of a challenge since half the power we offer is in the desktop application and synchronization conduits.
We work around that by offering the product OTA and when customers purchase, they are given the keys to a page on our site where they can download the full package. Seems to be working out well.
Do you believe BlackBerry users will end up using third party software as much as the Palm community does?
I hope so! BlackBerry enjoys a huge user-base of avid users. But showing them they can do so much more with their device is something that will benefit both them and us, and I think even RIM in the long term. So hopefully we can all do our part to spread that word. I remember in the early Palm days they used to show stats that only 10% of users were actually adding 3rd party applications. Within a few years, through the efforts of Palm and developers like us, and the all-important word-of-mouth, that all changed and 70%+ had installed 3rd party apps. Hopefully RIM can repeat this same progress on their platform!
Which mobile device do you currently use?
Dave: Oh boy- which one don’t I use?! I have sitting in front of me now a:
Palm Treo 700wx
Palm Treo 650
Dell Axim X50v
Palm Tungsten C
But the device that gets the most use is my new OQO Model 02, the world’s smallest Vista computer. It’s ironic that a mobile handheld and smartphone software developer gets the most use out of a ultra-small laptop (UMPC), but it’s stemming from the same irony that because I targeted mobile development as a business, I’ve had to do all my development on a Windows PC.
Lastly, do you have any “scoop” you’d like to share with CrackBerry.com readers?
Dave: We are excited about our plans for the coming year, beginning with the release of HanDBase 4.0 for the other platforms later this summer, and then getting more heavily involved with our web/server syncing solution, Global Share. These enhancements will be a great complement to our BlackBerry product, as we know that every BlackBerry has a connection to the internet and the ability to share databases through a server on the internet. And this gives the devices live database capabilities in addition to the offline/synchronization capabilities we already offer now. I hope these capabilities will really help small and larger business stay connected with the most up-to-date information and changes.
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