RIM's quest for app developers in the wake of PlayBook 2.0

the BlackBerry booth at MWC 2012
By Simon Sage on 7 Mar 2012 11:05 am EST

RIM held a cozy little developer panel at Mobile World Congress, where VP of Developer Relations, Alec Saunders, got folks from Zinio, Marmalade and Pacemaker to talk about precisely how awesome it was developing for BlackBerry. While most of the conversation was predictably positive, the Q&A with press was a bit more critical. I made sure to voice a few questions that were raised by you guys and fellow CB staffers. 

The biggest issue raised on the developer front, especially since support for Android apps launched in the BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0, is how RIM intends to attract, promote and retain quality developers. Supporting Android introduces a few problems; one that was brought up in the Q&A is piracy. There have apparently been many attempts to submit apps that have been blatantly stolen from other developers.  Luckily, RIM is committing to diligence on this front, and has already caught a couple of shady dealers. Alec said "We don't want the 'wild west' of the Android Market in App World"-- which is reassuring. 


One of my biggest concerns is that the multi-pronged developer strategy (i.e. supporting a dozen different programming languages) will end up enabling lazy developers rather than being an attractive on-ramp to native applications. Already, we're seeing plenty of apps that devs couldn't be bothered to change mentions of Android in, or web Flash apps that leave behind instructions for keyboard controls. Alec answered that low-quality apps will naturally be voted down, but to me, that just says that BlackBerry App World for the PlayBook and ultimately BB10, may simply be 90% poorly-ported apps from other platforms. There's still plenty of appeal in native applications, even if porting over an existing product to the PlayBook (rather than writing a fresh native one from scratch) is simply low-hanging fruit. As Marmalade CEO Alex Caccia put it, "You can't write Call of Duty with HTML5." 

BlackBerry developers at MWC 2012 

RIM's been aggressively evangelizing to developers, and their presence in the App Planet section of Mobile World Congress was a testament to that strategy. The picture above is from just one of the packed BlackBerry developer sessions at MWC, and according to Alec, European interest is still very high. I saw lots of developers walking away from sessions like this with free PlayBooks, which is a great start, but that's hardly a guarantee of loyalty. Alec said that part of the issue for developers boiled down to timing – specifically, a lot of them were adopting the "wait and see" approach until BB10 hit the streets, while others were planning to launch their first apps concurrently with the new platform.

I suspect that even after the launch of BB10, many devs will want to see RIM's smartphones being far more successful than their tablets before commiting resources to writing a brand spanking new BB10 app.

RIM is also expecting to limit the gross fragmentation of the previous BlackBerry OS by limiting the display aspect ratios of their devices. Rewriting BlackBerry apps for new screen proportions has been a big nuisance for developers in the past. It's good to see RIM is willing to be judicious when picking displays for their next batch of devices. Carriers have been another bottleneck for operating system updates, but Alec assured me that carrier preloads and services would be able to be updated separately from the bulk of the OS, meaning RIM could push out their updates independently, while carriers could still go through lengthy testing without bogging things down.  

BlackBerry Developer Zone at MWC 2012

While OS 2.0 was a big update, there are still a lot of things that need tweaking, and they're on the way. Alec assured me that stuff like portrait orientation in the stand-alone messages app would be fixed shortly. Even once some of the OS 2.0 hiccups are ironed out, there are some features that we're still waiting on, like DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct and some proper "Send To" menu options like we see in BlackBerry smartphones. 

All in all, it was clear to me that RIM was trying really hard to engage developers - I would even say harder than any of the other smartphone manufacturers at MWC. Google's crazy Android booth was more of a playground than somewhere developers could get down to brass tacks. Developers still see the market share breakdowns at the end of the day, and I worry that even with all of the engagement in the world, BlackBerry may stay low on the priority list for developers.

Reader comments

RIM's quest for app developers in the wake of PlayBook 2.0


Skype, Yes. Netflix I can do without, especially since they'll be going out of business within the next 2 years.

Yup, I agree... Just Skype will do the trick!

Come on RIM pay some guys if that's about, stop this carrier nonsense and deliver Skype for your products (I mean pb AND smartphones).

I would be against that Idea since there are a lot of Bad Apps on Android.

I also don't trust Google with securing the store after stores of Google wallet being venerable.

Not true, as there was 2 exploits.

First one you need rooted phone, but the second exploit applied to every Google phone that had Google Wallet installed.

no.. there really is a lot of awful garbage on Android Market. You really have to sift through the shit to find the gems.

The only reason the PlayBook isn't a complete loss (selling at less than cost) is because they can expect to get some of their money back from App World.

Abandoning App World would be the dumbest move they could make at this point.

Why?? I've been nothing but underwhlemed by 90% of the apps in the Android Market for the most part. Besides, why would I want applications not made taking the capabilities of my device into account? The bulk of the applications are pointless, and I want something a little more substantial than Angry Birds or a half baked version of Scrabble played online.

Like everyone is saying, get the big ones like Skype, Netflix and HBO and everyone will quiet down about the lack of apps.

Yes! So long as RIM is able to maintain its security features. Hopefully this isn't a contradiction in terms. Amazon? It's a pity RIM has the hardware, Amazon has the app market.

If they add android market it will be stupid and it's mean the blackberry apps world is die because nobody will make any apps for them.

Adding Android Market Place to the PB is pointless. The app player is too poorly made and has such limited functionality in terms of sanboxing, many apps just wouldn't work. Look at Words With Friends whoch doesn't even use the GPS or camera- laggy as hell and keeps force closing.

depends if they come out with cool BBX phones that sell like hotcakes. Top notch hardware and top notch software is the key here, preferably in a non-fragmented way

so to get skype we will need to convince all my friends and family member to get Playbook, I thik it would be easier for me to get a device whit skype than convincing my friend to buy 500 euro tablet.

500 Euro? I am sure you will be more successful when you tell them the real price :)

I am starting to think you want a cut from your friends purchase...

There is a million playbook out there, so a very limited number of devices running QNX/BB. Its a low number so difficult to attract developers.

You might see it that way, but PlayBook users are extremely hungry for apps. It's definitely a blossoming platform which will help RIM when launching BB 10 this summer!

Look what Box.net reported: 500,000 PlayBook users have signed up in less than 6 months! Tell me that isn't significant!

Also, 22% of PAID apps in App World is all PlayBook! This is very promising for RIM, despite the fact that BB7 isn't making significant inroads in the U.S. Folks are skipping BB7 in favour of BB10 or simply going to other vendors.

I think u are making a very good point! It matters how many devises are out in people hands but it also matters what competition the app faces. Everybody knows that there isn't much competition on App World at this point so developing for BBs can be a good value proposition.

BB 10 launching this summer? Ha - since when has RIM ever launched anything ahead of schedule? I'm guessing November...

No one said anything about when bb10 was launching in this little chain of comments. And its already been stated that it's launching in Q3...

Anyway I believe the route they're taking with the whole situation is alright for now but they must get major devs inboard with the native sdk

Money is Money regrardless of whos it is. If RIM can seal a deal with these bigger devs eventually they (the others smaller or larger) companies with follow suite. We as consumers have to speak out on RIM's behalf (like what you did with Netflix) let themknow we are the ones that have them in busniess and if it wasn't for us... you know what I mean.

Thanks CB!

November 2010 - RIM:
"That's the core part of our message…It is really not about a set of proprietary rules or about 'appifying' the Web. The Web needs a platform that allows you to use your existing Web content, not apps."

Hmmm.... So, 16 months ago RIM told developers to take a flying leap, now they're trying to show them love? haha.

As a Playbook developer I've found it annoying that all the featured apps are really all the popular apps on other stores.

It's the biggest kick in the pants with Angry Birds or Cut The Rope is featured for weeks and weeks.

If you want to make the Playbook a better developer eco system they must start featuring the golden nuggets within App World and give more developers the chance to "strike gold". This was the original lure of iOS that you could become rich by developing an app.

Top Paid Apps/Games sections can sell the big titles such as the apps I mentioned above I don't think they need to be re-featured in the featured section.

+1 from a users perspective. I don't even bother looking at the features apps section anymore as they are always the same apps that I've heard of 1,000 times before.

If make a quality app, it will sell, and be listed in the 'top paid' apps section... Just like the solar system by the blogger recently. Also, announce your app in forums with screen shots, don;t leave it to up RIM to advertise for you!


PlayLiveRTMP Encoder is the first Native app for the PlayBook that can broadcast live video stream using both cameras, available today!

Thanks for the little advertising space... LOL

Best regards for all BB Fans and CB readers!

in order for bb10 to be successful, they have to have apps but devs won't make apps until they are successful. going to be pretty tough to have a good bb10 launch. with that said i will be first in line for a bb10 phone and i hope others will be behind me


What you refer to as "lazy developers" will exist whether or not you have multiple avenues of development or one avenue. Actually the offer of a free playbook with a timeline probably caused more lazy development. I was thinking of rushing in an application myself for the free playbook offer, but time constraints lucky didn't make that happen.

The feature of porting application already exist. Marmalade is one example.

The problem right now that I am seeing in the development community there are developers whoa are bias towards a platform. Those are lost causes, but those individuals are the ones that do influence others who are considering developing with the platform.

A lot of people still have the notion that you need to use Java to develop for BBOS devices and OS 2.0. When you mention HTML5 and WebWorks they all look amazed...

As a mediocre developer, I largely agree with the critique here. I am hoping to learn my way up to doing some really nice native apps and in the meantime still working with WebWorks which does most apps pretty effectively. As a consumer I still refuse to pay anything for Android and thus I refuse to just create an Android app and port it over. AIR is alright, but if you're going to that extent already you may as well go WebWorks.

I develop for the Playbook since day one and always try to ensure, that the user has the best experience. The AIR components for QNX are great, and i hope to continue with the even better cascades tools.
But after 2.0 nearly every new App i see in appworld is an android app, mostly free an mostly very very poor, because they are not optimized for the Playbook.
So i have two problems now: My "quality" apps (i hope so ;)) will be hide under a pile of android apps, and are no more easy to find, and the most android apps are FREE, driven by advertising.
This might be great fore the user (really?).
But i have to compete with thousands of free Android Apps now. Thats fact.
And the user has no chance to find the native Apps in the future anymore. He needs to try 1000 android apps to find a native one. The rating-system is not a big help, because it is not significant before a big number of downloads/reviews. When Appworld changes into an second Android market i will leave the ship for sure and make apps for the other fruit company.
It would be a good step, when RIM flags the android apps in Appworld to make it easy for the user to find the native ones and to remunerate the native-developer for their work.

That was very well said. I do not want to use android apps on my Playbook - if I did, I would have purchased an android tablet. I don't like them to be honest. I find them to be of poor quality for the most part. Granted that's an overgeneralization, but at this point, I only have one Android app (BBC) as any other app I download get's deleted when I find out it's an Android app.

I want to support developers who develop natively. The only suggestion I have is for developers to post a thread on the Crackberry forums and let us know what you have created.

I cant speak for others, but I have found that to be very helpful in determing which apps I should download and purchase.

I support that, although some Android developer converts might disagree. The native PlayBook apps should be flagged as native. After all, they have a lot more invested in their apps. It doesn't have to say Android (since Google might hit RIM with some trademarked suit), but it should be flagged in some way.

Please let me know what apps you developed. I will buy from you as I don't have any Andriod apps now and hope I won't inadvertently buy any in the future. I have only added apps that I KNOW are made for BB.
And thank you for your support of my devices!!!

I think blackberry just needs to think outside the box. If they add things like print to go where you can actually pring documents from the tablet to a specific printer. So instead of tryiing to make it enticing for developers to come by jusr talking why not add a bunch of functions. Strike a deal with Lexmark, HP or kodak to make a printer that will comunicate with the playbook. They can even be sold as a combo. I'd even go as far as making a deal with the competition. What if RIM traded services? RIM gets access to SKYPE and Microsoft gets access to bbm. The two companies known for their influence in the business world working together (to a point) would be priceless. Heck, RIM's already using active sink so why now work with them. Can you imagine being able to use Skype with bbm? No other platform other than RIM and Microsoft would have it. To go further unleash the power of TAT. Not only that but even pay developers for "super apps". What if RIM just payed to have them made and they reap the bennifits of profit made from the apps. This is just the start. I say they stop begging the developers and set up a platform where developers will be begging to set up new apps.

Rant over.

It would also be great if they partnered with HP.

HP most likely needs a tablet, as articles point out consumer interest is high, and RIM has the 7" and is most likely working-on a 10", and it seems like HP is interested in working with 'big data'...this a working partnership that might be interesting.

If RIM wants developers to take them seriously, they have to take developers seriously as well.
- Stop sharing the apps' source code and assets. It makes developers feel uneasy and promotes piracy. This has been going on for months and the hole should have been plugged in OS 2.0
- Don't release broken OS versions (2.0) that have not been fully tested by developers. There is no point in having a beta programme if you ship a version that hasn't been tested by developers.
- Provide UI components for your new platform, don't wait for developers to do it for you or you'll end up with lots of ugly looking apps.
- When a new API is released, it has to be released for all SDKs. There is no point in saying that HTML5 is the future, when WebWorks devs have to wait months to get the same functionalities AIR devs have. Writing extensions is nice, but it just introduces extra work for short-lived workarounds.

I think RIM needs to use its in-house resources to also develop cool apps for the playbook until BB10 phones come-out.

The TAT teasers we're seeing at conferences is an example, it should be showing-up in the playbook.

I understand it takes a lot of resources to develop an excellent SDK for the playbook and work on BB10 phones but don't rely on developers to make the playbook 'natively' awesome. Most developers jump on band wagons.

I really like RIM's approach of 'letting everyone join the party' but obviously garbage apps need to be weeded-out, it makes the ecosystem look bad.

I understand why RIM wants its own platform based app store but it's coming to the point where it might aswell shift to android play/market

Do Apple and Android try to "sideload" Blackberry apps? I don't understand RIM's fascination with Android; if I wanted android I would have bought one of their tablets and the same goes with Apple. A sure way to failure is to try to please everyone all the time.
I like the PlayBook just the way it is and see its potential; hopefully we BIS users will get some love with full intergration like our smartphones do.

LOL - cozy panel = avg size group in a small room. Hope that pic was taken at a lull in traffic because it looked empty.

App developers? Seriously, If there's such a concern with Android piracy, why is there 450,000+ apps and a very large market share of Android devices that account for 45% of the market? Doesn't look like consumers (or Google) really care much on the piracy issue.

I think they care about market share...then piracy. It keeps them in business.

Why doesn't RIM just have a portal to the Google Play Store and tack on some sort of small fee rather than handing out free PBs? I'm sure there's a lot of these 'developers' hawking their freebie online for at least $100.

PS. I agree some android stuff is crap (with ads to boot)....but so is some of the stuff on App World.

RIM desperately needed developers, but slapped their pretty large existing smartphone developer community (Java based) in the face by not providing a native JVM on the Playbook and essentially encouraged them to develop for Android.

Completely crazy. They couldn't have made a bigger mess if they'd tried.

RIM thinks it needs app volume on the BB10 platform, hence the strategy with Android. They don't really care about quality. And the stats on developer profitability are questionable at best.

Ironically app volume is largely a non-issue because as most developers realise they make nothing from their apps the rate of increase of apps is slowing.

Content is and always has been the real differentiator on moblie device platforms. Consumers bought iPhones/iPads in large part because they could download content onto their devices. And RIM as usual has a fragmented and ill conceived solution for content.

Wow, they're still trying to entice developers? That's a great little problem, and I hope it works out for them, but it's sort of a sidebar, and I really, really hope RIM gets where the action needs to be. RIM folks, YOU CANNOT WAIT FOR DEVELOPERS TO CREATE APPS FOR YOU. YOU NEED TO CREATE THEM. YOU NEED TO SPEND TIME IN WORKPLACES AND CREATE KILLER PLAYBOOK APPS FOR INDUSTRY VERTICALS. I don't know how much clearer it needs to be.

Want to be a business tablet? Well, there are lots of businesses whose lives would be made better if someone integrated the PlayBook into their workflow and designed the apps to do it.

Maybe RIM needs to get in there and make the PlayBook the killer tablet for being a car driver, by doing a huge push on GPS and crowdsourced maps.

Maybe RIM needs to make the PB the killer tablet for being a studio music producer, by bringing in a ton of software and integrating it with the main mixing boards.

Maybe RIM needs to make the PB the killer tablet for actuaries, by -- oh, I have no clue what software packages they use and what they do out in the field if they ever go out in the field, and so on.

The point is that RIM needs to start somewhere, pick niches where the PlayBook can win, WIN, and build from those strengths. RIM cannot rely on anyone else to do the winning for them. They need to pick narrow verticals and go hard at them. Spend a week at a friendly office. Talk to everyone. Figure out what software and what apps the PlayBook needs to make the business of that office run better. Then DO IT.

@ Disparishun-- your post was AWESOME! I couldn't have phrased it any better myself and I couldn't agree more. RIM has 17,000 (!!!) employees. I would think they would be able to break a sizable chunk of programmers off of, lets say, the OS7 crew (who are, I would assume, taking naps all day since dropping 7.1 two months ago) and get their butts making some quality, niche apps that RIM NEEDS TO HAVE RIGHT NOW. C'mon guys! I'm rooting for ya but you people seem to be getting things done in slow motion!!
Long Live The RIMpire!!!!

LOL @ the chick putting on chapstick with the death stare
You guys seriously couldn't find another picture??

we'll never get market share without developers giving us apps, and we'll never get developers giving us apps without market share... I'm reminded of a great conversation I once witnessed::

Bill: Ted, while I agree that, in time, our band will be most triumphant. The truth is, Wyld Stallyns will never be a super band until we have Eddie Van Halen on guitar.
Ted: Yes, Bill. But, I do not believe we will get Eddie Van Halen until we have a triumphant video.
Bill: Ted, it's pointless to have a triumphant video before we even have decent instruments.
Ted: Well, how can we have decent instruments when we don't really even know how to play?
Bill: That is why we NEED Eddie Van Halen!
Ted: And THAT is why we need a triumphant video.

Excellent analogy, I actually discussed this issue with someone else. I think RIM just needs to forget about trying to make money from App World since most of its revenues are from hardware anyways. They need to adopt a strategy that lets their software drive hardware sales. If the software happens to be Google's, then so be it. There are tons of low quality apps in Android Market, but that doesn't mean RIM has to use them all. They can follow Amazon's strategy of using select Android apps in addition to building native apps. Most of the apps that consumers want can be found in Android, case in point Instagram coming to Android. It is much easier to pick select quality Android apps and use them along with native apps than to start from scratch.