BlackBerry DevCon – San Francisco October 18-20, 2011

While RIM is growing in absolute numbers, in relative terms BlackBerry faces tough times due to the  competition of iOS and Android. We visited the BlackBerry DevCon with high hopes of great and radical new decisions – and of course to present Glaze UI, our new BlackBerry native UI framework. Radical news we received indeed – continue to read why the DevCon has frustrated many BlackBerry developers  and how we see it.

Checking in at the DevCon worked really flawless – and RIM used their cool PlayBooks for the check in procedure, which was a nice detail to spot. Of course we (Robert and André) directly headed for the keynote at the Moscone conference center where lots of people were eagerly waiting for Mike Lazaridis (President and co-CEO of RIM as well as “Officer of the Order of Canada”).

Mike Lazaridis opening the DevCon.

After his apologies for the previous outages of the BlackBerry messaging infrastructure Mr. Lazaridis and his co-speakers (most notably Alec Saunders) provided news and many interesting facts like: Apparently 1% of all iPhone developers make more than $1,000 but 13% of BlackBerry devs make $100,000 or more.

Now that's really cool and shows again that smaller does not necessarily mean worse. Also the BlackBerry ecosystem as a whole is growing in absolute numbers and the Java OS 7.0 devices are the most successful launch in the history of RIM.

BBM adoption is growing steadily

BlackBerry AppWorld facts

Alec Saunders busts the shrinking market myth, at least for BlackBerry Java OS subscribers

Alec gives details about app usage on BlackBerry devices

BlackBerry developers make a lot of money

What followed left many people either confused or even infuriated. The BBX platform plans were detailed somewhat (basically it's the QNX based Tablet OS further developed), but there was no mention of a Java development stack. Instead developer should either go to the native BBX C++ level or use a HTML5 approach.

The only route for Java developers is to go to Android first and then come back using the Runtime for Android apps, which is in beta now. While this is definitely good for the platform to get more apps, this approach does not allow to integrate deeply into BBX and also leads to more UI fragmentation (Adobe Air, HTML, native Cascade and Android). The rest of the general session centered around games, games and games.

Don't get me wrong, we love games as well (and the PlayBook has some great ones) – but the world contains more than games. And again the majority of the BlackBerry development community is not only Java based but also application centric. Also so far the Tablet OS hasn't lived up to its hype - right now RIM is even giving away one PlayBook for free when you buy two (until December 31 2011).

Previously there were rumors about a Java solution for QNX (or BlackBerry Tablet OS or BBX) and as we understood of our talks with many other developers during the DevCon, most were quite upset about the missing migration path for them. This includes many of the internal RIM employees that we met as well. It's really curious and strangely fascinating how a company seemingly under pressure from its competitors turns against both its existing developer base and their own employees at the same time.

While I understand the urge to do a clean cut, the current approach seems to be more a recipe for disaster, for corporate suicide than a well considered strategy.

Contrast Research In Motion's approach with Microsoft's Windows 8 strategy: Microsoft embraces web developers as well, but they give exactly the same interface to web, .NET and C++ developers, so everyone can leverage their existing know-how.

Where the hell is Java?!

And while speaking about a clear cut – the general session was all about announcements but not about “boring” facts like release dates for either the BBX system or the availability of QNX based phones. There is one exemption – a beta of the QNX based Tabled OS 2.0 was made available, most importantly it contains the beta of the Android runtime, but sadly neither BBM integration nor a native Email client.

For us as a service company there is one detail that keeps my interest in BBX and that's the announced Qt integration. While the Qt UI is not part of the deal since it will be replaced by the way cooler TAT Cascade UI framework, Qt will form the basis of hopefully large parts of the native API.

This can possibly provides a new haven for our Qt developers to leverage their know-how on that new system. However, when discussing this option internally, it was clear there is little enthusiasm about this option. Qt developers know how it feels when a system is abandoned and the current course that RIM takes with their existing Java developer community does not increase trust in the actions of the management.

Alec Saunders in action

If you feel similar or like this new strategy, Alec Saunders (VP, Developer Relations & Ecosystems Development) invites you to mail him on alec.saunders@rim.com. This is a cool opportunity to get in touch with BlackBerry and I'm really grateful to have it – thanks, Alec!

Some more thoughts about The Astonishing Tribe (TAT) Cascade UI framework: This solution is technically really savvy & rich and there are some things that are just so beautiful. But I wasn't impressed to see their old picture stream visualization once AGAIN, after they have shown it the first time freaking four years ago (yes, on feature phones):

By now the animations are even slicker, but I still think that this eye candy would drive me mad if I actually had to use it. Beautiful but senseless usage of 3D visualization imho.

One last quibble I had about the general session was the fake conversation between Mike Lazaridis and his guests. In those times they did not talk to the audience but only to themselves. Only after a while the camera team adjusted and filmed the guys from the side of the stage, so that we could at least their face on the screens, but I still felt awkward and outside during those talks.

But not all was bad about the keynote, one thing that's been really cool was the announcement of WebGL support on BBX, they showed a slick 3D “tunneltilt” demo during the session (skip to 3:32):

After the general sessions we could pick up our PlayBooks – every attendee got one PlayBook for free – with the current beta of Tablet OS 2.0 as an option. Cool stuff, even though I would have preferred a QNX based phone somewhat ;-)

Free PlayBooks - with Tablet OS 2.0 beta of course :-)

I can wrap up the rest of the DevCon quite quickly – many of the sessions were really good and provided deep coverage of various topics. It's also great to chat with other developers and people living in the BlackBerry ecosystem – and of course with the speaker and RIM employees. Of course we presented our new Glaze UI as well and we did not hesitate making subversive advertisement for it (well, on the electronic spray wall):

Guerilla Marketing for Glaze UI

Our session went well which surprisingly included our technical demo as well. In case you didn't know Glaze UI allows you to rapidly design an app while it's running by placing CSS code on a server (like pastebin or your own) – and we did that live using input from the audience. Registered DevCon attendees can watch the Glaze UI session online.

And of course we distributed our 9th edition of our Mobile Developer's Guide to the Galaxy, which just got out of press a week earlier. Once again we were thrilled about your positive feedback, hopefully we will get even deeper BlackBerry content in the next edition.

San Francisco is a great city – and as a Northern European at this time of the year I cannot stress the cool weather enough. After the DevCon we visited our friends from Jibe Mobile in Montain View and while walking around in the city we spotted the Evernote office. Of course I had to take a picture of that monumental situation which resulted in us being invited into the office where we had a nice chat with the Evernote guys and even got a T-Shirt – thanks guys, you rock!

Evernote rocks, note my cool BlackBerry T-Shirt from foursquare, too! ;-)

All in all the BlackBerry DevCon was well worth a visit! Looking forward to the BlackBerry DevCon Europe, which will take place on February 7th and 8th 2012 in Amsterdam. Hopefully BlackBerry revises its strategy in regards of Java until then!

You can view the general session online here:

http://www.blackberrydevcon.com/americas/webcast

(Robert)

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