by Al Sacco

RIM Execs: There’s Never Been a Better Time to be a BlackBerry Developer, User

Nov 10, 2009
Data CenterDeveloperEnterprise Applications

In light of a number of major company announcements, two Research In Motion (RIM) BlackBerry vice presidents offer takes on why mobile application developers and smartphone users would be wise to focus on BlackBerry instead of those other platforms.

BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) kicked off its second annual BlackBerry Developer Conference this week in San Francisco, and the company quickly wowed its developer audience on the first day with a variety of exciting announcements, including an entire “toolbox” of new development utilities.

RIM's BlackBerry Developer Conference Welcome Area
RIM’s BlackBerry Developer Conference Welcome Area

I sat down at the event with RIM’s VP of Platform Product Management, Alan Panezic, and Tyler Lessard, the company’s VP of developer relations, to get their takes on why mobile application developers and smartphones users should keep a close eye on the BlackBerry platform in coming months and years.

Both executives stressed that the end-goal of nearly all RIM’s recent developer announcements, which include new developer-tools from Adobe, Oracle and much more, is to make it as simple as possible for developers to create “rich, integrated” BlackBerry apps. In the past, developers have typically considered the BlackBerry platform to be more of a challenge to develop for than, say, Apple’s iPhone OS.

Why Develop for BlackBerry?

“There’s really never been a better time to be a mobile application developer,” Panezic says. “We are making it easier to build BlackBerry applications in every possible way.”

Most of RIM’s BlackBerry Developer Conference news, including the Adobe and Oracle news, is meant to make it simple for developers and designers who are already familiar with common development tools to quickly begin creating BlackBerry applications with their existing skill-sets.

That means more developers creating more application, Panezic says.

RIM also made a number of announcements related to the company’s mobile application store, BlackBerry App World. For example, App World will get carrier-billing options some time in 2010, enabling users to purchase App World software when they pay their monthly wireless service contracts. Carrier billing would eliminate the need to enter in payment card information at the time of purchase.

BlackBerry App World is also now accepting BlackBerry “theme,” or software “skin,” submissions, and themes will start to become available in the not-so-distant future. Themes help users customize the look, feel and function of their BlackBerry smartphones, and they’re typically considered to be a relatively simple way for developers to turn a profit.

RIM’s also drastically expanding its application channels to market, or the ways in which developers can distribute and sell their applications, Lessard says. Beyond App World, RIM’s fostering strong relationships with carriers and working with them to pre-load apps and even their own app stores, according to Lessard.

Having an application pre-loaded on devices by carriers is the ultimate win for developers, Lessard says, because many beginner BlackBerry users or less tech-savvy owners use only the applications that were “handed to them” when they purchased the device.

The “always on” nature of the BlackBerry platform, and its ability to run multiple applications at the same time, with little effect on device performance and/or battery life, mean BlackBerry offers developers and users something that, say, Apple’s iPhone platform, cannot, according to Lessard.

From a developer perspective, “now’s the time to execute and get the customers,” Lessard says. “There’s definitely a land-grab for the eyeballs of users right now,” Lessard says.

Why Buy BlackBerry?

So what does all this mean to current and future BlackBerry smartphone users?

BlackBerry owners stand to benefit, because they’re the ones who’ll reap the fruit of all these new developers’ labors, according to Panezic.

“The definition of the word ‘smartphone’ has changed, with an emphasis on ‘smart,'” he says. “Users are now expecting to do things months down the road that they couldn’t have imagined” when they first purchased the device.

That’s all thanks to the amazing things BlackBerry developers are doing and will continue to do with the platform, Panezic says.

RIM’s Lessard thinks the BlackBerry platform offers users something no other smartphone can due to the complexity of application programming interfaces (APIs), which let developers heavily integrate their own third-party applications with core BlackBerry apps.

For example, many new BlackBerry Twitter applications, including my own personal favorite, TweetGenius, integrate with the core BlackBerry camera application, so users can hit their BlackBerry Menu keys after snapping images and quickly upload them to Twitter.

RIM’s been heavily criticized in the past for its less-than-impressive BlackBerry Browser, but Panezic thinks the latest iteration of the software, which is found in RIM’s new BlackBerry handheld OS 5.0 is a marked improvement.

“Work isn’t done on the browser, either,” Panezic says.

He notes that RIM’s recent acquisition of Torch Mobile, maker of the popular Webkit-based Iris Browser, was specifically meant to address weaknesses in the BlackBerry Browser.

RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie also confirmed in his BlackBerry Developer Conference day one keynote that support for Adobe’s Flash will come to the BlackBerry browser in 2010, further enhancing the software’s capabilities to display and interact with rich Web content.

“You’re going to see some very impressive stuff coming from us” on the browser-front, Panezic says. “And you’re going to see the pace of innovation [at RIM] in general drastically increase.”


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