With the media declaring doom and gloom for RIM at every corner its nice to see developers coming out to explain why they choose the BlackBerry platform and the future they see in it. There are tons of BlackBerry developers making good money developing slick enterprise and consumer apps but they tend to keep quiet. Ekke, a long time BlackBerry developer, decided to do something about it and penned his “Letter from Outer Space” explaining why he develops for the BlackBerry Platform and the current game plan he is seeing at RIM and what he is hearing from actual RIM employees. Most of you are probably tired of the “Open Letters” from “RIM Employees” but I highly recommend checking out this one.
I asked Ekke for permission to repost his letter below which originally appeared on EkkesCorner. Let us know what you think of it!
this blog is something like a reaction on anonymous RIM insider reports as published here. I’m, not an insider – so this is my “letter from the outer space” I don’t know what’s right or not, but whining never helps and I got so much positive feedback reported by (real known, not anonymous) RIM employees, so I have a good feeling to continue with the BlackBerry platform.
As you probably know, I’m an independent software architect working for medium sized companies in the domain of enterprise and mobile business applications. I’m doing this since more then 30 years now and the only goal of my daily work as consultant, architect, developer or trainer is to design the best solution to satisfy the requirements of my customers.
I’m also an Open Source enthusiast and like developing with (and for) Eclipse Projects.
And I’m a fan of Apple products since Apple][, Apple ///, Lisa and Macintosh. Of course I’m developing using newest full-featured iMac at my home-office and MacBookPro at customer site and my (and my wife’s) smartphone is an iPhone.
My two youngest kids like their HTC Desire Android phones (and I can see how Android works and also can test APPs at Android Devices).
If you followed my blogs and twitter @ekkescorner you have seen many posts about BlackBerry Development (using Eclipse to develop native Java Apps). Perhaps you’re asking “why the hell is ekke developing for BlackBerry platform instead of iOS or Android ?” The answer is easy: because I had some customer requirements I could only solve using BlackBerry (more below).
If you know the way I’m working to produce high-quality software, you also know that I don’t touch only the surface, I always go as deep as possible into frameworks / platforms / technologies to find the best solutions. And that’s what I also did with BlackBerry. Developing BlackBerry Java APPs totally changed my mind about RIM and BlackBerry.
This article is based on my subjective personal experiences with BlackBerry and discussions with other developers. I don’t want to be part of a war between anonymous writers and their employers.
Reading so many shallow media articles about RIM and BlackBerry and anonymous letters from ‘insiders’ published last days I decided it’s time for me to write this article from the outside. I have enough distance, no stock options and survived so many technologies, so hopefully reading this article causes someone to rethink about BlackBerry and RIM.
Why BlackBerry is the optimal solution for some of my customers
at first I want to talk about the reason, why I preferred BlackBerry for some of my customers. easiest to explain taking a look at some of the must-have-requirements from one of my customer projects:
- device has to be used by truck drivers and needs a hardware keyboard and a good-to-protect screen. only solution I found was BlackBerry Bold 9780 together with an Otterbox.
- orders must be delivered to the truck in a secure way and in-time with guaranteed delivery. only solution I found was BlackBerry Push Services providing such a QoS level.
- truck drivers (in the domain of waste and recycling) should only be able to do some selected things with their smartphones – most features are blocked or hidden. Only way to handle this was using BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) where in this case the free Express Version solves the requirements.
- a GPS tracker must be developed to run in the background while communication with server and different foreground UI Applications must be possible. This could be done using Android or BlackBerry.
- sales persons and managers should use a touch screen device – so of course this can be solved with BlackBerry Torch, Android or iPhones. Customer wishes ways to notify the user silently if important events happen: this could be done most flexible using BlackBerry: not only PopUps like “WhatsApp” or similar applications are notifying the user, but also vibrating and blinking of the LED in different colors and sequences.
These are only some examples – it’s not the goal of this article to go deeper into other requirements. I myself was astonished how many times the answer was: this special requirement could only be solved using BlackBerry or causes extra development costs on other platforms.video: UI and Navigation BlackBerry OS 5
(if video not visible click here to watch)
Only marking requirements as solved by a platform isn’t enough – users have to rely on a platform for years – and much more important:
the users also must have…
A good feeling – esp. using mobile devices with whole-day-business-APPs
that’s the reason of iPhones success story: Apple was the first company providing Applications and mobile Devices where users have fun to work with.
Why most people are not thinking on BlackBerry if talking about cool devices and software ? Years ago BlackBerry was the leader and the first one putting BlackBerry phones into Enterprise companies. Esp. pushing emails to the devices through BlackBerry infrastructure was unique and powerful.
The look and feel of native applications using Java ME maybe was acceptable in the past, but not if compared with Android and iOS. The mistake done by many ‘experts’ is to compare such old applications (OS 4.x) with modern Apps on Android or iOS.
You can develop all kinds of mobile Applications using BlackBerry OS 6 – per ex. using Maps, Routes, GPS, Geodata and Accelerometer:video: shake your BlackBerry to follow the path
(if video isn’t visible, you can watch it here)
Starting with BlackBerry OS 5 the look-and-feel of BlackBerry native Java Applications changed radical and this story was continued by BlackBerry OS 6 and OS 7.
It’s always the same: if I’m demonstrating some of the applications I developed for customers running on BlackBerry, nobody could believe that this is a BlackBerry Application. You could really develop very cool Applications for BlackBerry and if you’re just starting you should forget all the old OS versions and start with OS 6.
Reading letters from anonymous ‘insiders’ and their whining about BlackBerry Applications I think they don’t know what they’re talking about. I know from my experiences and customer – feedback that OS 6 BlackBerry applications are playing same level then Android or iOS. I placed some videos at http://vimeo.com/channels/blackberrydev – more will follow and also some blog series where you can verify this.
Not only the look-and-feel changed – also the developers at RIM added more and more API and (extended) JSR’s to make the life as a java developer easier and to provide more and more functionality.
Yes – I know, RIM’s first touch-device (the Storm) was disastrous (compared with an iPhone), but they learned and the Torch is much better providing a good feeling. (I use Torch, Bold 9780 and iPhone daily and always like the hardware keyboard).
The upcoming devices (Bold 9900, 9930…) will again be much better because of better hardware and graphics – they also will have a compass, NFC and OS 7 on board.
Actual devices perform well and cool apps can be developed – what’s the problem ?
All current BlackBerry Smartphone Apps rely on an outdated platform under the hood and it’s clear to survive this must be changed. That’s where QNX comes into play and the BlackBerry Tablet OS running on BlackBerry Playbook.
BlackBerry PlayBook – first step into the future
Last year at Developer Conference DevCon in San Francisco RIM announced the first tablet: the PlayBook and now it’s available – even in Germany since some weeks. BlackBerry PlayBook is the first RIM Device using an OS based on QNX: TabletOS.
QNX is a modern and robust OS and since many years used in sensible domains. Now RIM has a counterpart to Apple’s OSX. QNX will also be the future OS for RIM’s smartphones. BlackBerry PlayBook is a real Multitasking System: switching between apps doesn’t pause them – they’re all running – this enables great application – scenarios esp. for business APPs. Yes, there are negative comments from analysts because there’s no native mail + calendar application or they miss an UMTS version of the PlayBook, but last quarter RIM sold more PlayBooks then expected (500,000+) to the channels.
If you ask someone working with the PlayBook daily – you’ll get enthusiastic reports: the PlayBook runs fast, is intuitive, has many cool features and you got a good feeling holding it in your hands. Most PlayBook users are very impressed and some told me, they don’t understand why analysts are writing so negative.
Perhaps some analysts compared PlayBook directly with iPad2 and have overseen, that
- it’s the first tablet from RIM
- using a brand new OS
- distributed through new channels
- targeting consumers and business
… they put the hurdle to overcome by RIM too high.
image 3: don’t put the hurdle too high
I think, RIM has done a very good job for this first step. Yes: native email and calendar are missing yet, but you can use the browser in the meantime and RIM has announced that both will be shipped soon. Of course: time is running and RIM has only a small timeframe, but the chance is good that RIM solves this.
Yes: there are not so many Apps available then for Android or iOS, but RIM announced a player allowing it to run Android Applications on the PlayBook and another Player to run existing BlackBerry Java Apps from OS5 + on the PlayBook. Both players are announced for summer / autumn and will enhance the number of available applications drastic.
For me the TabletOS has the power to enable the BlackBerry PlayBook as a unique player at eye level with iOS.
Looking at the technical specifications of the PlayBook you’ll see it’s up-to-date: 7″, 1024*600, Multitasking, 1GHz Dual Core processor, 1 GB RAM, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, 1080p HD Video with 3 Megapixel Camera (front) and 5 Megapixel Camera (back), Flash supported, 3G for this 1st version of a BlackBerry PlayBook via Tethering. Missing: native email client and calendar, but announced to come this summer via software update.
But if you’re only looking at the tech specs your way too short – if tech specs are the most important things today, then all these Android Tablets should have more success compared with iPad.
The real difference is the unique UI and the feeling you got – there’s the real difference and that will be the reason (from my POV) that RIM will be catapulted ahead. There will be a 4G Tablet later this fall and you should also expect BlackBerry SmartPhones using the same cool UI not far away. One drawback at the moment: there are much less APPs available for PlayBook then for iPad or Android, but RIM is working on this – more later.
RIM – Research
in Motion in Transition
Next year will be hard for RIM and BlackBerry Smartphones and Tablets – but thats normal for a company in transition. So don’t believe all what you read in all those current and upcoming articles and analyzes from all the experts outside or from anonymous insiders.
If you’re thinking, RIM was great in the past, but forgot to modernize and looks like an old steam locomotive, you’re complete wrong.
Image 4: is RIM like an old steam locomotive (if believing some recently published articles) ?
Many things happened – some silently, some only noticeable if you’re reading between the lines. Why am I so convinced, that RIM is on the right way ?
image 5: or is RIM on the right way direction future ?
Last months RIM did some important acquisitions:
QNX Software Systems becomes part of RIM. QNX Neutrino RTOS is the power behind the BlackBerry PlayBook: a superb OS proven since long time in mission-critical environments. RTOS enables the PlayBook to run many Applications simultaneously without corrupting one another or the RTOS itself. Try it out on a PlayBook: start a HD Video, switch to another app and the video is still running flicker-free – this is unbelievable. RTOS is the magic behind the scenes to make the PlayBook Tablet OS responsible and smoothly.
The combination of own hardware (BlackBerry SmartPhones and BlackBerry Tablet) with an own superb OS (QNX) will enable RIM again to provide solutions working in a secure environment and also providing a modern UI – something different from iOS and Android. You should try it out and see how it feels to work with the very 1st version of PlayBook Tablet OS.
tat – THE ASTONISHING TRIBE – an innovative design company from Sweden, best known for its amazing Android Interfaces, 3D graphics, Android live wallpapers and also work on augmented reality facial recognition.
Take a look at the tat – videos to imagine their UI visions and then go back to tat homepage and read “We are now designing and developing UI for the BlackBerry ecosystem“.
The acquisition of tat happened end of 2010 and here you already can see live first results from Tablet OS:
(if video not visible, click here to watch)
esp. at 2:30 see what happens with the contact list if BlackBerry PlayBook changes direction – awesome. … and you can perhaps imagine what kind of UI will come to BlackBerry tablet and smartphones.
Ripple eases testing and debugging of mobile WebApplications directly inside the Browser. Only one month after tinyHippos was acquired by RIM they presented first results: BlackBerry WebWorks 2.0.0 was supported now together with first 3 simulators for BlackBerry Torch, BlackBerry Bold and BlackBerry PlayBook. read more at BlackBerry Developer Blog:
I’m only developing native Java APPs, but if you like to develop mobile WebApps, then BlackBerry WebWorks (now together with Ripple) could be worthwhile.
Imagine the power of QNX as underlying OS combined with fresh innovative UI visions from tat and others – what kind of Devices and Applications will be possible in the near future !
RIM not only acquires new companies, they are also part of the collective winning bid of Nortel Patents and put 770 Mio $ into this. Patents are also an investment into the future.
More things are changing at RIM:
RIM goes Open Source. Yes ? really ? Are you talking about RIM ? Yes.
Starting in september 2010 RIM published their WebWorks at gitHub. WebWorks is a platform for deeply integrated Web Applications for BlackBerry Smartphones and Tablets.
RIM also got Open Source knowledge: Eduardo Pelegri-Llopart is on board. Eduardo already supported Open Source projects at Sun, was involved into JCP then worked some time at Oracle and now is at RIM. You can follow Eduardo @pelegri – also a good idea if you’re interested into Jenkins/Hudson.
Not only the PlayBook Tablet is new – this summer first BlackBerry Smartphones with “liquid graphics” will be available starting with the new Bold 9900 / 9930: 1.2 GHz Processor, 768 MB RAM, 2.8″ Tourchscreen + full Quertz keyboard, NFC, Magnetometer, OpenGL ES 2.0, “liquid graphics” – which means up to 60 FPS for Java Apps, 130 gramm, 10.5 mm thin, HD Video recording / playing and much more…
(if video isn’t visible, please watch from here)
It’s also good to see that BlackBerry devices are still solid and robust as reported from this actual study.
But again – hardware specifications are only half part of the way. New devices also have BlackBerry OS 7 on board – the last version of the ‘old’ OS. OS 7 provides many new API’s and together with the new Hardware you can develop amazingly awesome Super Apps.
What’s new with OS 7 ?
- NFC (Near Field Communication) read and emulate virtual tags
- Magnetometer, Compass API – combined with Window Manager to develop Augmented reality APPs
- HD Video recording
- Open GL ES 2.0 for enhanced gaming
- Super Apps with new “Send Menu API” (see below)
- Window Manager API (overlay Open GL or other UI components on whatever you want including native Camera, Map, …)
- extended Unified Search API
- extended Maps API with geofencing support and more KML objects supported
Write Applications with deep integration into native APPs
image 6: deep integration
This is always one of my personal highlights: I can integrate functionality of native APPs into my own APP and also my functionality can be injected into native APPs. This is great for the user: no need-to-switch between APPs if you per ex. edit a contact and have also to fill out some properties for your CRM solution or so. The user doesn’t know that he/she is using different APPs to solve this.
Now with OS 7 this is enhanced by a “sendTo” Menu – this allows you to integrate your own APP with Twitter, Facebook and more without coding much glue code. A good example how this will look, can be found here at BerryReview.com:
BTW: if you like to know more about “HowTo develop BlackBerry Super Apps” – there’s a Power Workshop at (german) MobileTechConference 2011 in september, where you can also win one of the newest BlackBerry Smartphones.
Why developing for BlackBerry OS 6 / OS 7, if this is old technology ?
That’s a great question and I wished RIM would be more aggressive on this and shouting out some clear words like:
- Come on and develop OS 7 Applications. These Applications will run unmodified in the upcoming QNX – Player for BlackBerry Java APPs on PlayBook and QNX-Super-Phones
- We support our Java Community – Yes: there will be a Java SDK on top of QNX and Yes: we’ll provide tools to help you to port these Applications to QNX
- Tell your Customers, that they can buy the new “liquid graphics” devices like Bold 9900: QNX will run on these Devices later and thats the main reason why they have such a fast processor and more RAM then ever before
Attention: I got these informations reading between the lines from Webinar about OS 7 and some articles / interviews, but miss such loud-and-proud official statements. Perhaps I’m wrong with these statements !
How to get more APPs available for PlayBook and upcoming QNX-Super-Phones ?
PlayBook is based on QNX – and so there were no existing Applications to start with. But RIM did a good job: Adobe Air is already running on QNX and so at first RIM made partnership with Adobe and provided soon an Adobe Air SDK for the PlayBook. Using this SDK it’s easy for Adobe Air developers to port their Apps to the PlayBook.
Next step: it was relatively easy to make HTML5 – CSS – Applications to run and so RIM’s Web Framework “WebWorks” was ported to Tablet OS and existing developers of mobile Web Apps can easy bring their Applications to the PlayBook.
There’s also work on the native TabletOS – C – SDK – and some companies already are using this, per ex. to bring the “Need for Speed” game to the PlayBook.
And there will also be a Java SDK to provide a modern SDK to existing Java Community.
How to start even faster ? The really great news at BlackBerry World Conference was the announcement of two (so named) “Players” to make it possible
- to run existing BlackBerry Java APPs on QNX PlayBook (and later at QNX-Super-Phones)
- to run Android APPs on QNX
At BlackBerry World Conference RIM already demonstrated how fast Android APPs are performing inside the Player on the PlayBook.
(if Video isn’t visible, click here to watch)
These APPs only have to be re-packaged and signed – no code-modifications. Of course Android APPs can only do what they can do on Android Hardware. Things like the deep integration with native Apps won’t work out of the box. But this is a great way to bring Android Developers to RIM and then they’ll notice what’s possible at this platform and that they can make money from BlackBerry App World (the BlackBerry Application store)
Providing the player for existing BlackBerry Java APPs is great for the existing community: now developers are knowing, that there will be a smooth way of transition from old platform to the new one. You can compare this with Apple supporting over years OS 9 Applications running under OSX using Rosetta.
If you take a look at RIM’s Java APIs in detail you’ll see that there are many specialized APIs to fulfill RIMS security requirements and to support all the Super APPs API’s. Even if the underlying new QNX Java SDK will be based on a newer version of Java, RIM has to add a huge part of these APIs and so existing experienced BlackBerry Java developers will become experts on the new SDK in a short timeframe I’m expecting.
Should RIM focus on Business and/or Consumer Market ?
This is one of the difficult questions: how should RIM find the right balance ?
image 7: how to find the right balance
In the past most BlackBerry devices are used from Business guys. (But I also read that in some regions of the world kids are using BlackBerry Messenger and feel cool to get a BlackBerry)
RIM started with eMail Pushes and by today no one else has such a qualified Push Services then RIM for BlackBerry.
iOS and Android are used mostly by consumers, but also more and more business oriented people are switching to iOS or Android.
The borders between consumer-devices and business-devices are fading away and also RIM starts pushing the PlayBook Tablet into Consumer Market. This means to support new Channels – or did you ever expect some years ago to order a BlackBerry at Amazon ?
On the other way there are many features esp. for Business applications supported by RIM’s BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) and BIS (BlackBerry Internet Services). It’s important to continue and grow on this domain. For me the decision to put Documents-to-go onto the new OS 7 devices is great for business users.
Problematic at the moment is, that managers are using iPhone because it was much cooler then old fashioned BlackBerry. This argument will be thrown away soon with new devices and Software (UI). Hopefully RIM’s marketing will do a good job demonstrating WHAT you can do with new BlackBerry devices and how cool this is instead of publishing ads telling “we support Flash“.
Another really cool product of RIM announced recently:
image 8: balance between life and work
Everyone knows: there’s a life besides work, but one thing is common: you’re using SmartPhones and Tablets at work and also in your personal life.
BlackBerry is known as a secure device and many companies are using the IT Policies from their BES to control the BlackBerry User: what is allowed, what is prohibited ? IT normally doesn’t like that users install a game at the device and on the other side the employee doesn’t like to add his private contacts to his business address book synced with business servers.
Now BlackBerry Balance technology comes into play:
You cannot divide the SmartPhone User, but you can divide the SmartPhone content and behavior between life and work:
- the IT can still manage the business area of the smartphone: what is allowed, which APPs on Whitelist or BlackList, Contacts, …
- the user can manage his own private area and has all privacy he wants: IT cannot read his private emails or take a look at private photos
- if Employee left the company, the User still can keep his Phone with all data and Apps intact while IT wipes the business area
- if you’re using BlackBerry Balance you cannot upload your business address book to Facebook – or the copy/paste menu is grayed out, because you’re not allowed to copy business data into your private area.
Modern SmartPhones often cause nightmares for IT Managers – now they can sleep well – BlackBerry Balance is a new milestone where BlackBerry has a unique feature.
Will be hard days, weeks and months for RIM
image 9: hard work for RIMs employees and partners
I’m in contact to many RIM employees from Development Department and I have the feeling that they’re very motivated and are all working on a vision to bring RIM ahead. It’s not easy for a company like RIM to solve the challenge, but I’m sure, they’ll finally make it.
Only 15 months ago I started with mobile development and got in contact with RIM and I can confirm, that from month to month things are becoming better and it’s great to see that RIM becomes more and more “open minded” and is really listening to the developers pain. Some things were changing fast – others still too slow.
Of course I’m also missing some points – most important for me:
- Tooling on OSX: Since one year or more there’s a beta of BlackBerry Eclipse Plug-in for OSX. It works well, but there are no Simulators available and you have to debug on the Device only. This is extremely slow if debugging complex business Apps with a bunch of libraries in use. Without native OSX Simulators its worthless from my POV. So BlackBerry Eclipse development on OSX for me means to use my Parallels VM on top of OSX, which works well. Only drawback: Bluetooth cannot be tested inside the VM. Hopefully RIM will change this soon and provide native Simulators for OSX.
- Working with newest Eclipse: BlackBerry Plug-in is nearly the only one where I always have to work on previous Eclipse Versions. Would be great if RIM would also support nightly builds on newest Eclipse Versions.
- Build Support: RIM should provide official build support for BlackBerry Eclipse Projects where you can easy build for different OS. At the moment there’s only the BB-Ant-Tools project at Sourceforge providing some Features to use Ant to build.
My wish list:
Dear RIM, please:
- become more flexible and agile
- don’t be confused by articles and analysts only looking at the numbers and volumes from last quarter
- simply stay ahead
- explain how all the puzzle pieces will work together
- shout out more about the transition and your visions