Prior to BB10 Jam Americas, I had been feeling more discouraged about the future of BlackBerry. Back 9 months ago, after purchasing a 9900, and after recently having my first big app success on App World, I was extremely bullish about RIM. I wrote an article for BerryReview entitled RIM: Perception VS Reality where I contrasted how the media was constantly slamming RIM as compared with my fantastic experiences with their new 9900 offering. My conclusion was that, for me, the 9900 was an extremely competitive product, and it turned on its head for me the notion that RIM’s latest handsets were dinosaurs compared to the competition.
Going to BB Jam in Orlando was another high point in my bullishness for RIM. The $10K developer commitment was incredible, and depending on the details, it might have meant a real shot at earning another $100K to $200K for a developer like me. The Cascades framework looked incredible, and I was in awe of the 60 fps they were acheiving, paired with the gorgeous and industry leading 1280×768 screen. I was also very impressed by how RIM was able to leverage TAT to infuse BB10’s UI with world class design.
Since the conference, there have been many discouragements and not as many encouragements.
To be honest, some of my key discouragements have been personal, which I should obviously separate from BlackBerry’s future. To start, after spending 150 hours creating and working out kinks on my Flix app, the response has been mixed, but many people have slammed the app as being silly and worthless with its restriction of only working at home, etc. While I disagree, it doesn’t feel great to be panned by users, especially when I was so excited working on it that it would be received well by the community. As an example, my brief chat with Alec Saunders (meeting him for the first time) at BB Jam in Orlando was not exactly inspirational. I think his comment was that he could see how some users might want to do that. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate his honesty, and who knows, perhaps RIM’s internal perception of the app was mixed. Maybe they were even unhappy about it. On the technical side, it has also been frustrating that the PlayBook NDK doesn’t support the WebView control, requiring a separate helper app to adequately select which movie you want to watch. Ugly. It will be many months yet before RIM catches up on the PlayBook to support Cascades, which includes a WebView control.
It was wonderful to be off of work June/July/August with my wife on parental leave following the birth of our second child. I knew life would be busy, but I also figured there would be some good chunks of time to do BB app development. It was pretty disappointing seeing August come to a close and still not being done porting my first super-simple Baby Names app to BB10. (Which took 13 hours to create for PlayBook, and likewise 13 hours for BB phones) I wrote an article about the pain points that there were using the beta SDK tools, but again part of this was personal: I just hadn’t been successful finding the time and energy to overcome these hurdles. Part of this was paying for my earlier success: I was struggling to keep up to support emails, and was frequently burried in 100+ support requests. Keeping up was eating most of the time I would otherwise have for new development.
Some more unfortunate news recently is that the 10K developer commitment is limited to 1 app. That turns the 10K commitment from being a possibly huge economic opportunity for me to basically a non-event, since my top apps will almost certainly earn more than 10K in their first year.
Aside from not finding time, I have also been lacking some passion on the BB10 dev front. Most of this relates to getting stuck on pain points as mentioned above (which, with the awesome help of developer relations I am past), but part of this too is being uninspired by the PlayBook OS they slapped on the Dev Alpha. Having almost 0 first party apps on the device makes sense from the perspective of “you build it”, but it has a strangely demotivating affect turning on a device with no first party apps to inspire, and no inspiring UI to play with.
Besides these personal dev downers, it has been harder than I thought watching RIM struggle with its quarterly results. What is strange about this is that I knew it was going to happen, and wasn’t really phased by it, but to actually see it happen, and seeing the stock so much lower than I ever could have imagined is a tough pill to swallow. It has also been rattling to see personal friends leave RIM, and hear of others that have been let go. Again, we knew this was coming, and so I’m not sure why the reality of it is harder to take than I thought.
Finally, I have increasingly felt that while I am a big fan and supporter of BlackBerry, I don’t want to be ignorant to the dominant North American platforms, so I’ve decided to also own an iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III. I want to understand how those platforms execute various use cases, what their experience is like, and what their top apps are like. Having owned an SIII for a month or two now, it is more apparent to me some of the shiny aspects of these impressive phones, and it’s not difficult to see how they are appealing so much to North American users. Following on the heels of that, these past two weeks I have started to read smartphone reviews on CNET and other sites that don’t even list BB as one of the choices. In one Internet comment I read, someone quoted BB’s North American market share as being down to 1 percent. Is that true?
As you can see, going into BB Jam Americas, I’ve been discouraged. Not without hope, far from it, but definitely discouraged!
I was extremely surprised to hear that RIM was upgrading the Dev Alpha OS to include the core BB10 UI, including the keyboard. Having downloaded it, it is a huge breath of fresh air. It is a complete reversal for me, from being uninspired with the modified PB UI, to being very inspired by the BB10 UI. When I had lemented about the Dev Alpha being so empty to other devs in the past, we both agreed that RIM probably wouldn’t do this since they want to make a big splash with BB10’s release. But they have, and I’m so glad they did. It has been fantastic exploring the OS, such as the settings screen, and seeing how RIM has used Cascades to create their core UIs. It has also generated some solidly good press for RIM, which I think they badly need given the long wait for BB10. For example, it is awesome to read The Verge reporting that BB10 looks to be a solid OS, and even the comments to the article are encouraging and much less negative than usual.
Having the full API set now is also a breath of fresh air. Working with a beta SDK was more painful than I thought, so seeing the tools and API mature is very welcome and energizing.
All in all, the Dev Alpha is at a place now where it is much more emotionally aluring to develop for than it was in August, which is precisely what RIM needed to accomplish with BB Jam Americas. Well done!
Another solid encouragement this week were RIM’s quarterly earnings. Again, I was expecting them to be really, really bad. But I was wrong. Most encouraging is that RIM’s cash pile isn’t vaporizing, but is actually higher. And this means that RIM only needs to “hang on” for one more quaterly release before they can shift gears to BB10. At this point, I’m very confident they can do that.
My remaining insecurity is whether BB10 will have apps like Netflix and Skype at launch, or closely following launch. That was the part of BB Jam Americas that I found underwhelming: They started into that part of the presentation saying they have all sorts of huge names behind BB10, and then unveil a list that doesn’t contain any of the huge names people are anxious about. (on the apps front to be specific — they seem to be doing great on the games front) The hope I’m clinging to is that they clarified this list is only those partners that were willing to be listed, and that they’re working with many other “huge” companies. I will choose to be optimistic. But it will be a huge sigh of relief if and when they are able to announce that they will in fact have many of the massive apps that everyone and their dog expects. With everything else looking so solid, perhaps it’s even the last piece to the puzzle.