BlackBerry is not PALM! May 3, 2012
Recent press about BlackBerry 10 and how it’s doomed like PALM’s WebOS irritates me. Dont’get me wrong. As a BlackBerry app developer for 10 years I’ve lived through many ups and downs with BlackBerry. I’ve always disliked the BlackBerry Java APIs, and how RIM treated partners poorly over the years so I’m by no means a ‘fanboy’. Today we develop apps for all major smartphone and tablet platforms, and BlackBerry is absolutely not one of my favorite platforms.
However, from what I hear this week out of BlackBerry World in Florida and the changes made internally around developer support I’m encouraged to take another look at QNX/BlackBerry 10. Am I going to push customers to develop for BB 10? No. It’s too early to tell if RIM can deliver. I’ll share more with you over the course of the summer. Meanwhile back to my rant..
When PALM Inc tried to reignite it’s customer base with WebOS devices it had one and a half devices in the market place ripe for upgrading. The Treo and Centro. PALM were slow to get carriers worldwide to sell their phones, mostly because carriers could choose between an iPhone or a selection of BlackBerry devices at the time. Carriers like to differentiate, especially in Europe where they like to have exclusivity. This further restricted PALM’s efforts to grow distribution channels quickly.
PALM had a small but passionate audience, eager to see a new device that would compete with the iPhone. The PALM Pre did not deliver on the hardware front and a few short months after it’s release it was over for PALM. I guess it’s easy to paint both PALM and RIM with the same brush but I don’t buy it. BlackBerry has a strong following (70m worldwide) with a vast array of devices (cheap and cheerful to premium on every wireless network worldwide). Their market is made up of enterprises and a solid youth following due to BBM (with 55m users) and a few celebs in between. RIM is global. They have distribution globally. They know how to ship a new device into all corners of the world. RIM have cash in the bank, they are profitable and have an army of account managers to educate their carrier partners on new products. All RIM need to do is align everyone in the company and deliver on the vision. Something they have failed to do for a number of years. Thorsten Heins (CEO) has made moves in the right direction, exciting the crowd at BlackBerry World with demos of the new virtual keyboard, camera and user interface flow. He also made an appearance in Amsterdam at the BlackBerry Developer conference in February. Whilst I was disappointed by his very first comments as CEO: “Nothing will change, we are on the right path” it sent the wrong signal to a public who perceived RIM has disorganized and mismanaged. Perhaps a few months into the role he realizes the outside perception, certainly things are aligning from what I see. It’s my view that Mr. Heins is only now able to flex his muscle, after reorganizing the senior management team.
I’m confident in RIM’s ability to make quality hardware. Today, the main issue most people have with BlackBerry smartphones is the slow, cumbersome legacy operating system. Beyond that, as a developer, the poorly written Java SDK didn’t help outsiders innovate on the platform. Testing was often non-existent at the API level. Why would this change? Because of QNX & TAT. RIM need to bring the radio stacks over to QNX, which I believe is pretty much wrapped up. PlayBook OS was a testbed, albeit an expensive one! PlayBook OS, soon to be BlackBerry 10 is a very solid realtime operating system that has reliability and responsiveness designed into it. Also, the user interface elements built out by TAT (Cascades SDK) look astonishing (pun intended, Tribe) along with the native SDK which has slowly matured over the course of the last year on PlayBook. This is why they can do cool demos like the flow from one screen to the next. Or an amazing predictive keyboard which responds so quickly.
I feel over time, with the right focus on developers that RIM can get a core base of developers to learn this new platform. Will the next Instagram be born on BlackBerry 10? Unlikely. But I do see reasons why new apps would start on BlackBerry 10, e.g. those seeking BBM integration. Developers won’t flock to BB 10 until it proves itself in the market place. I guess the $10,000 guarantee by RIM for developers is an incentive for students and individuals tinkering with mobile development. For larger more professional outfits and brands, it will be wait and see for 2012.
Apps are amazing, I’m sold on the vision and productivity of apps since late 2002 when I cofounded a mobile technology company in Ireland. I’d seen the very first BlackBerry’s selling in the UK (5820 with monochrome screen) and was excited to take it further. I’ve not looked back. Will RIM be part of the mobile development platforms of the future with BB 10? it’s too early to say, but this is how I rate RIM’s challenges in late 2012:
A) Deliver top-notch BlackBerry 10 hardware: very likely
B) Top-notch BB 10 OS: likely
C) Seamless enterprise integration (BES/MDS): not so sure, porting encryption and IT policies is trés difficult.
D) Attract top developers: Aside from select games developers, unlikely in 2012. E.g. our customers in the fashion industry won’t target BlackBerry 10 until it has widespread adoption in key demographics for them.
E) Die like PALM? Not if RIM get A thru D right.