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Last month there was a big stink about a single developer accounting for about 47,000 apps in BlackBerry World - roughly a third of the total catalog count at last tally. Lots of press painted a picture of a manufacturer that encouraged low-quality, spammy developers to beef up their numbers and ultimately project an inflated sense of health in the app ecosystem.
Even outside of the BlackBerry ecosystem, 47,000 apps by a single developer is unheard of on other platforms. It was easy to imagine a Chinese sweat shop full of poorly-paid coders cranking out apps as fast as they could be submitted. The developer in question was S4BB. While in Hong Kong for BlackBerry Jam Asia, I swung by the S4BB offices to see if any of these images held up.
"You can't stop at a hundred."
Turns out they didn't. S4BB is a small group of mostly Europeans. The apps they make are polished and useful. They're innovating in new areas like Oculus Rift software and consumer drone hardware. CEO and co-founder Patrick Kosiol sat down with me to talk through the ruckus caused by their app count. The vast majority of S4BB's apps are individual city guides, though they were quick to remind us that they've dabbled in many areas.
That dabbling is actually very much at the heart of S4BB's strategy: while many developers put all of their blood, sweat, and tears into a single app, Kosiol and his team identify single, useful utilities, cook them up quickly, and move onto the next. Kosiol says this is a more macro-level view and has so far proven successful. BlackBerry's Alec Saunders confirmed that though individual download numbers for many of S4BB's apps aren't through the roof, the combined results of single sales a few thousand times over works out in the end.
As you might expect, some of the cities S4BB provides guides for are extremely obscure, but through an automated system, they're able to pull in legitimate content from a wide range of sources into a consistent, polished user interface. I actually ended up buying their Hong Kong city guide and read through the Wikipedia article on the flight over. (Fun fact: Hong Kong is the most vertical city in the world due to the number of skyscrapers. I feel right at home.) The built-in currency converter has been helpful a dozen times already. Kosiol posits that the city guides are even good enough for Built for BlackBerry designation, a claim which Saunders had backed up, but providing that badge of quality to such a huge number of apps could obviously be problematic.
"It's all about the end-user."
S4BB's loyalty to the BlackBerry platform is worth noting, too. They've been in the sphere for awhile, and have even named their company after BlackBerry. What happens if things don't go smoothly for BlackBerry over the next couple of quarters, though? S4BB have already launched a handful of apps on iOS and Android, but for the immediate future, they aren't going anywhere.
However, if BlackBerry pivots to enterprise solutions as expected, Kosiol might not be inclined to stick around. He clearly enjoyed gathering end-user feedback and addressing the needs of everyday consumers, but there's little room for that in a world where only CIOs are buying BlackBerry apps.