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RIM Needs to Provide Guidance on Super Apps, BBM SDK

Update: Sorry for the confusion. You can find the updated final copy of Chris’s article that is now correctly updated.
I accidentally posted an older draft which you see below. -RH

Platform Roadmap

You wouldn’t know it from reading the mainstream media but the BlackBerry platform has a number of competitive advantages that remain unmatched by the competition. One of them is the Super Apps API through which BlackBerry apps can integrate richly with the user’s data and native applications on the device – anything from memos, messages, calendar and tasks to call logs, notifications and LED controls and even things like Facebook and Twitter messages getting embedded in the Messages app. Good luck doing that with Android or iOS  (like, have you tried writing code to access something as simple as the Calendar on Android??! Anyways, I digress…).

Lots of apps like my high-end productivity apps Viira and the Viira Outlook Suite leverage the Super Apps API to create a rich experience that cannot be created outside the BlackBerry platform. By integrating with the user’s phone’s data and native applications in a secure, trusted way an app is no longer just an app but an integral and engaging part of the user’s day-to-day experience. And that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing for both developers who can make lots of new product ideas possible and for users who enjoy new capabilities on their devices.

RIM Marketing calls this “BlackBerry Flow” and the idea is that the user effortlessly “flows” from one part of the device in a smooth, value-adding and effortless way. You will even see “big time” apps like foursquare,, wikitude and of course the likes of BlackBerry Travel integrate very richly with the Super Apps and BBM SDK. As recently as two years ago RIM held “Super Apps” challenges – with big prizes.

Actually, come to think of it every single consulting project I have done has used the Super Apps API in one way or another.

The problem is, as it stands right now the Super Apps API and the BBM SDK will be dead when BB10 arrives, and with it a critical competitive advantage of the BlackBerry platform will be needlessly gone.

RIM hasn’t made a formal announcement to that effect, but the “bye-bye Super Apps, BBM SDK” conclusion can be easily inferred by all developers when they connect the dots. The official way forward for apps on BB10 is Android (unless of course you are doing a game or have a web app in your hands, in which case native and WebWorks are the way to go) . However Android’s does not have a Super Apps API and what it offers is a puny little subset compared to what something as ancient as BlackBerry OS 4.6 can do.

So if you have a good thing going for you, why kill it?

There are a number of ways that RIM can easily address the problem and provide the kind of experience BlackBerry users are used to as they transition to BlackBerry 10. The easiest way would be of course to add a last-minute java player in BB10 to buy time and simply avoid the drama come launch time. Or they could hack the Android runtime somehow.

Whatever it is RIM does need to step in and provide guidance to developers here. Otherwise there will be a lot of disgruntled users come BB10, especially on the enterprise side (hey, why upgrade when my NEW phone can’t do what the OLD one did so easily?) Abandoned, moth-balled apps and developers jumping ship will be next. And you betcha the negative publicity will be quick to follow and spread like wild fire after that.

24 total comments on this postSubmit your comment!
  1. RIM is bringing both Super Apps APIs and the BBM SDK to BlackBerry 10. Not to mention Cascades, which will make native apps the best way to make your typical productivity/non-game app (not Android)

    • In the recently posted interview, the product manager stated that cascades was for games if I’m not mistaken.

      • Cascades is a UI framework for creating BlackBerry 10 native applications. It will be the “default” UI for all apps – this is not meant for games.

        It provides developers a fast and easy way to build impressive interfaces for their apps. Look at the Pictures app or the Scrapbook app on the PlayBook if you want to see what Cascades enables.

        • I would still put these apps in the games category because they offer non-native looking ways of controlling the experience, but I think the new PIM suite is built with Cascades, so if the controls are standard UI elements, then I guess everybody will be happy, especially since they can be controlled asynchronously .

      • On a practical level, Cascades make a LOT of sense for games and media apps. Many existing games are written in C++ so a port to the NDK + Cascades would be a natural fit. And any cool UI effect from Cascades would be a sweet, added bonus.

  2. From the picture that you posted, I still see “SuperApp integration ” in BB10. Have you asked Alec Saunders about this yet? I don’t see how you can have SuperApp integration without a corresponding SuperApp API.

  3. > The official way forward for apps on BB10 is Android

    This is not true. Android is a step to make it easier to publish existing apps on PlayBook. BB10 is the way official forward, with AIR, WebWorks, NDK, Cascades and Qt.

  4. The way forward is WebWorks, but it can only succeed if RIM does 3 things:
    – provide access to ALL the APIs. No more lagging behind AIR or Java (on smartphones)
    – provide a state of the art browser wrapper that has no visual glitches, no performance issues and features state-of-the-art hardware acceleration for everything we see on screen, including text. OS 2.0 is still a half-baked solution.
    – provide skins for JQuery Mobile and Sencha Touch and provide their own skin as well for people who prefer to re-invent the wheel.

  5. how this crap even made it to the front page? was it not reviewed? RIM clearly stated that Super App API will exist in all forms of dev tools like AIR, WebWorks and Cascades. Cascades is not for is UI framework and it is at the core of BB10 and runs on the bare metal of the device meaning fully GPU accelerated …

  6. Cascades is the way to go and not Android. From discussions at BBDevCon SFO and Amsterdam its clear that SuperApps API will come to BB 10 and also BBM.
    Take a look at PlayBook 2.0 Calendar, Contacts, Messages: 3 examples where APPs are integrated like SuperAPPs.
    and take a look at the NDK – from release to release more BPS (BlackBerry Platform Services) are available

    • Do the PIM apps have access to the LED, notification area, BBM, phone messages, phone contacts, BB push?
      Some of them maybe (not sure about notifications), but it’s mostly a no, so these are not SuperApps

    • “Cascades is the way to go and not Android.”

      This really depends on the type of application you have on your hands, actually, and RIM has provided different approaches for a reason.

      If you have anything “web-y” app, WebWorks will be a better choice. Existing Java business/productivity/workflow apps are so much easily ported to Android.

      So it depends on where you are coming from and what kind of application you have on your hands.

      • yes, it depends on the type of applications. for web-y-apps WebWorks is great, but for SuperApps with deep integration Cascades is the way to go …. if you want to stay with BlackBerry.
        (Android Apps don’t feel like real native apps and they have no access to the platform services)

  7. The fact that RIM is promising to have Super Apps API in a C/C++ environment, in a completely new UI framework on top of that is essentially useless to many current BlackBerry developers on PRACTICAL level – that’s my point here. Many current apps are in Java so Cascades would require a complete rewrite – from scratch.

    So while RIM’s marketing is putting “Super Apps API” on powerpoint slides and feeling good about themselves many current Java developers are thinking “so you want me to re-write all my apps from scratch in C++??”

    Porting an application into a different language using a new UI toolkit takes lots of time and effort. Yeah, it can be done if you have lots of time on your hand. Many developers just won’t bother though. Maybe because they don’t have the time.

    App developers are business-owners as well, we don’t get a stable paycheck at the end of the month so taking months to re-writing existing features in a new language does not exactly present the highest return on our time investment.

    To put it in that perspective, effort-wise a re-write in C++ for Cascades is pretty much comparable to picking up Objective C and porting to iOS. Now, does RIM really want existing BlackBerry Java developers to be contemplating this thought?

    • > “To put it in that perspective, effort-wise a re-write in C++ for Cascades is pretty much comparable to picking up Objective C and porting to iOS. Now, does RIM really want existing BlackBerry Java developers to be contemplating this thought?”…

      we had this discussion last year already. I also was disappointed that there’s no way for Java on BB10.
      From my POV it would have been a better way to fork the OSX OpenJDK instead of developing Android Player.

      But its history… we have to live with the decisions RIM did.

      So you have to decide if you want to stay with RIM or not.

      I did a deeper look at Qt, Cascades etc and have the feeling that this is a really great framework a Java developer can learn easy.

      For me the decision is clear: instead of Android, iOS or WindowsPhone I’ll go the BB10 – Cascades – way to be able to develop great business apps as SuperApps.

      Over the next years I’m sure there will be a JVM on BB10/QNX. Steve Jobs also thought that OSX doesn’t need Java 😉


      • You make an excellent point, ekke. It comes down to developes making a decision on which way to go from here.

        The problem for RIM here is that developers will not have made the choice in time for the BB10 launch, leaving the launch feel underwhelming in terms of apps. Sure they will make the decision at some point. Just not for the launch.

        “Will BB10 sell enough devices to justify my porting time investment? Well, hard to tell now, let’s wait a few months and see then”. This kind of thinking makes sense for many.

        Obviously it’s not in RIM best interest for developers to be thinking that, given how much is riding on the BB10 launch. The last thing we all want is a “no apps on launch, no device sales. no device sales, no apps” catch 22 situation.

        “Over the next years I’m sure there will be a JVM on BB10/QNX”

        I too think that there will be a JVM on BB10 at some point in the near future, it just makes a whole lot more sense for that to happen earlier rather than later.

  8. Can’t wait for all this to come together!

  9. Java Player probably won’t come. Experience will be sub-par, AND you have licensing issues with Oracle. Biggest reason of all would be the time and effort it would draw away from BB10/QNX — they don’t have their own Social Feeds app out yet for PB2.0 and Twitter isn’t producing a client because they know it’s coming. It would be easy to throw something out there that works, but has all kinds of wrinkles in practice that either lead to a bad experience or a security/privacy vulnerability which the other platforms are being inundated with.

    What RIM is doing (contrary to the article’s supposition) is creating and expanding the SuperApps APIs within the BB10/QNX environment.

    One thing which is coming eventually will be fuller support of USB, allowing you to interact with cameras and flash drives with the QNX/BB10/PB hardware as a host computer. That and other standard interfaces being included opens a huge gateway of new possibilities.

    I don’t know where this article came from, there seems to be some confusion on the part of the author.

  10. Hi all I have to make a huge apology to Chris. He wrote the draft you read before we mentioned the slides from MWC. He then updated the article and I accidentally published his older draft. Sorry for the confusion. Above is the final copy of Chris’s article that is now correctly updated.
    Mea Culpa

  11. I see this (super app) problem too. I’ve been waiting for the native SDK for Playbook for indications of how to control the playbook (and OS10) on a deeper level- always-on apps, integration into the OS that includes being able to create a music player-like control bar on the notifications area, being able to get a list of current apps and CPU usage to create interesting utility apps, being able to catch gestures prior to gesture processing to add gestures customized for the user, etc.

    Sure, there are security issues that need addressing but since I don’t see anything like this in Playbook (which is really the Beta for the OS10 phone) I’m starting to wonder.

    And by the way, opening up APIs to allow what I’ve described above will make the playbook one of the most interesting general purpose *computers*- right now, it’s pretty much a data consumption device.

    Also, I agree re java vs. C++. I made an investment in the current BB platform. I need to see the money as to whether I should learn OS10 or IOS or WinPhone or Android. This is a real money and career choice. RIM needs to make their ecosystem one where developers can thrive. Show me the money!

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