Update: Mea Culpa. Below is the final copy of Chris’s article that is now correctly updated.
He wrote the draft we posted earlier today before we mentioned the slides from MWC. He then updated the article and I accidentally published his older draft. Sorry for the confusion. -RH
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 (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 or data stores 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. It’s also a good thing for users who enjoy new capabilities on their devices.
There is only one problem though. As of BlackBerry 10 support for the Super Apps API will be cut down to a fraction of its former self, in a way that’s not very usable or practical to the majority of current BlackBerry developers (outside of games and themes).
According to released slides RIM plans on cutting down the Super Apps API to just HTML5 and TAT (according to this slide). So right now core BlackBerry developers who have been coding in Java have a number of equally unappealing choices.
Either web-iffy their apps (hello time lags and cheap-looking web UI) or port them to C++ (yikes!) and start relying on a new, as-of-yet unreleased UI framework with an unproven track record (beyond a few amazing looking demos). And with Android’s Super Apps API severely lacking in comparison to BlackBerry’s, current developers are staring at a number of equally unappealing alternatives.
In reality most app developers just won’t bother or have the time. So come BlackBerry 10 time many existing apps just won’t get ported, not in time for the launch anyways. And watch the visceral media have a field day with that. Lo and behold, the number of apps on BlackBerry is actually decreasing!
Now, I have been in the BlackBerry system for a long time and know that RIM is excellent at supporting the development community. But RIM needs to step in here and provide a technical migration path because most current developers are scratching their heads looking at the migration paths presented to them.
So let’s be constructive here. Here are some of the things that I think RIM can do:
- Provide a Java player in BB 10 to alleviate the migration pressure. This will just buy time but save some tense moments with the developer community and the media.
- Hack Android Extensions to provide Super Apps with the Android runtime somehow (messy!)
- (What every current developer would like to see): Provide a Java runtime with a Cascades UI environment. Ideally, make a dual RIM UI/TAT UI environment just like we now have a RIM UI/J2ME UI environment. This way existing apps can run without a problem on BB 10 (migration pain solved!) but new ones can take advantage of Cascades or on a per-OS build basis.
I don’t think 3) is that hard to pull off technically. RIM has plenty of time to execute on that – and even roll out a little beta program mid-summer to give developers a taste of what’s to come.But something needs to be done and waiting is not an option that is sitting well with the developer community at this point.