For the fourth year in a row, I headed down to the San Francisco area for the annual BlackBerry Developers Conference (DevCon). By now many of you will have read the announcements and press releases so instead of rehashing them here let me share some first-hand experiences and highlights from the perspective of someone who has been developing for BlackBerry for a while now.
Lots of new faces at RIM. Surprisingly or not, many familiar faces of senior RIM execs from previous years were no longer to be seen. Clearly, the winds of change are blowing in Waterloo. I am hoping and crossing fingers that the new senior management steers the ship in the right direction.
The Android Player. One word for this one: amazing. The idea of the Android player is to run existing Android app on the Playbook, and subsequently on BBX devices. During DevCon RIM reps were manning booths that helped developers do exactly that – take their Android .apk files and show them how to transform them into Playbook apps.
RIM engineers have done an incredible job here. Even though the player was in beta all it took for the Android version of my app Viira to be repackaged as a Playbook app was a command line incantation – and that’s it. No code change required whatsoever and it ran beautifully without a glitch.
The Android player runs as a background system process so running Android apps on the Playbook is entirely transparent to the user – there is no need to manually start the player. The Android player will be pushed as part of the Playbook OS updates ensuring that Playbooks around the world have an up-to-date version. Expect to see the Android player in the 2.0 update to the Playbook.
No Java on BBX. To be honest, when RIM announced that Java will not be a supported way forward to develop on the BBX platform it left a lot of developers scratching their heads and wondering what the future of BlackBerry will look like. Has RIM gone mad? People were feeling anxious, to say the least.
One senior technical rep that I have gotten to know over the years put things in good perspective for me. With 70+ million non-BBX BlackBerry devices that will be around for some time to come (see no mention of QNX point below), does it make sense to worry [and get your panties in a bunch] yet? (stuff in brackets added by author)
Cascades: the way to the future. Developing rich next-generation user interfaces on the BBX platform rests on the shoulders of cascades brought over by RIM’s acquisition of The Astonishing Tribe (TAT). The demos presented clearly demonstrated some futuristic looks and capabilities. However being a bit of a sceptic here, from what I saw I wasn’t fully convinced that cascades will necessarily make it possible to develop bread-and-butter apps with ease. Only time will tell.
No mention of QNX devices. Normally, RIM gives developers a peak into the future of BlackBerry as early as possible. For this year’s DevCon, that glimpse did not include the much-anticipated and rumoured QNX devices. In short, QNX device availability was not mentioned at all. Does this mean that RIM does not plan on releasing those any time soon or does it mean they are simple mum to not distract potential buyers and upgraders to the new 9900 series and Torch models? Your guess is as good as mine on this one.
Overall, I have to say that this has been one of the most useful DevCons that I have attended. It was amazing to see the BlackBerry ecosystem mature from the “early days” of 2008 where people were trying to get their minds wrapped around what in retrospect looks like basic apps and concepts to the present where so many rich, complex and sophisticated applications and frameworks were presented. The RIM technical reps were incredibly helpful and that alone made the cost of admission well worth it.