Why Appesque is investing in BlackBerry 10 October 30, 2012 3 Comments
Appesque is a mobile development agency building native apps on iOS, Android and BlackBerry 7 and we’re currently adopting new platforms. Despite our small size and distributed workplace, we work with clients around the world, mostly in the US and Europe. Most of our clients we can’t name, but we can say our clients are global top 5 companies in luxury fashion, pharma, banking and travel. We got started working with young startups pushing the boundaries of innovation and continue to do so today. Our uniqueness is that we build top quality native apps across all these platforms, meaning one contact point for your mobile development efforts rather than working with different suppliers for each platform.
Cost of adopting a new platform?
Learning a new platform for us is a time consuming project, plus it doesn’t add to our revenues in the short-term. It requires a solid business case to adopt a new platform. For other agencies it’s also about the skill-set. That’s never been a problem for us, we’re an experienced team of mobile engineers with an aptitude for new technologies and if we weren’t building apps on the platforms we’d be building the platforms. But we’re small, we work in different locations (Belgium, Ireland, UK, US) and dramatically growing the team is not our goal. So why take people off revenue generating projects to learn a new platform when there is enough work to stick with one platform?
It’s my belief that we’re so early in the mobile platform wars that it’s impossible to predict market dominance 5 years out. For us its not about picking winners! We strive to be the one-stop shop for building your mobile apps in the best way possible. The best way to implement apps is using native technologies. The best platforms are future proof from the ground up (kernel). To be the go-to agency for building the best apps on the best platforms, so it’s important we invest in learning the future-proof platforms at the right time. Too early and we’ve wasted time (lost revenues) and too late we’re competitively lacking.
So why did we wait until now for Windows Phone development?
Honestly, market demand was low. Despite the Nokia bump last year, demand from customers didn’t materialize. However the biggest problem we had investing time in Windows Phone 7 was the platform could not be considered modern. Windows phone 7.x used a very dated kernel and lacked fundamental features like multi-core support. WP 8 has NT inside, a completely different beast. Despite the frosting of Windows Phone 8 looking the same, it’s a monumental shift forward as a technology.
Why BlackBerry 10 native?
We waited until windows Phone was in the market for over two years before investing a dime, so why are we actively working on BlackBerry 10 now given that it’s not released, and seen by many as DOA (dead on arrival).
One thing I want to mention, no offense to the folks at RIM who came up with the $10k developer commitment but it’s not geared for agencies. So we don’t benefit, our clients, the product owners do.
Here’s why we’re investing time and money now in an unproven platform: the 10 year rule!
Somebody smarter, surely famous and probably with more hair than me said platforms have a lifespan of about 10 years. I couldn’t agree more when it comes to mobile. It’s not just the pace of innovation on mobile seen today that’s killing platforms, it’s the underlying kernel and SDKs that are putting a bullet in the heads of aching platforms. A platform worth investing in must be future proof, have a solid reliable core and powerful robust SDK to support an ecosystem of developers. WP 7.x does not have that. BB 7.x does not have that. Symbian does not have that. WebOS did not have that. OK, I need to explain WebOS a little more, it had a new platform with an SDK built on HTML5 technologies. However HTML5 = no thanks. It just doesn’t cut it on mobile as the only option to build an app ecosystem. That leaves us with Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10, both new platforms with kernels and SDKs worth investing in. So it was an easy decision.
We’re actively investing brainpower in both WP8 & BB 10 today. We’re already scoping native BB10 apps for clients in Europe, in fact at this point BlackBerry 10 is ahead of Windows Phone in terms of the demand for apps we’re getting.
Our business model is based on the philosophy that it’s not our job to pick platform winners, our strategy doesn’t require it. So I don’t come from an emotional place on this topic, which helps.
Exciting times. iOS 6 is just out and today both Android gets bumped to 4.2 and Windows Phone 8 launched. WP8 is a serious upgrade, new kernel and matching hardware. Looks great and many of the new devices are getting solid reviews. Android 4.2 is much more of an evolution as is iOS 6 as you would expect from market leaders. Same goes for their hardware.
We’ve had an amazing 2012 to date at Appesque and we look forward to bringing great apps to these platforms and more in future.
BlackBerry is not PALM! May 3, 2012 2 Comments
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.
BlackBerry PlayBook review May 3, 2011 No Comments
It’s worth mentioning at the outset, I don’t do product reviews. However the PlayBook arrived on my desk last week and I’ve got some observations I’d like to share. Despite getting pretty negative reviews from the blogosphere, the hardware is robust and the software is pretty good – not quite as robust but getting there. In fact, as I write this article the PlayBook is downloading an update (RIM say updates could come every two weeks). The browser is solid, the apps perform well and there are some very nice touches. BlackBerry Bridge is a work in progress, but a fine idea. Looking forward to getting BBM on the PlayBook shortly too.
Whats missing is the catalog of apps on the iPad. However with Adobe at hand to help out it shouldn’t take long to get a plethora of content rich apps to the device. My congratulations to RIM for shipping the very first tablet that supports Flash properly. Its runs very well in the browser. Here in Belgium sites like deStandaard.be and Een.be can’t show video clips on the iPad but they work seamlessly on the PlayBook. Yesterday I was browsing a bank’s site, www.argenta.be on the iPad and noticed the main page was complaining about Flash. Picking up the PlayBook the same site worked flawlessly. Stuff like this matters to people.
As for Enterprise, the missing enterprise features of BES control and MDS tie-in will come in software updates. So in a short time, this tablet will be a solid performing enterprise class tablet.
As for performance, I think enough has been written about the QNX operating system already however its worth mentioning that in reality this thing really is rock solid and performs very well.
As an app maker, I feel this is a hardware/os platform that we can take advantage of. Apps will prosper once the SDKs mature and RIM continue to steer the developer community in the right direction.
For now this is one more happy PlayBook user and developer!
MWC 2011 summarised February 17, 2011 1 Comment
These are my thoughts on Mobile World Congress 2011 held in Barcelona this week. Rumor has it that next year its moving away from Barcelona, don’t believe its final yet but Munich is in the running from what I hear. Keep in mind that my thoughts come from the perspective of an app developer, so you won’t find anything about networking systems and so on here.
Tablets were popular conversations this year, as expected. Google’s Android booth had the Motorola Xoom on show. Click for more of my thoughts on Android Honeycomb/3.0. In short the user experience is confusing enough to force a first time user to *think* – something which disappoints especially in the tablet space given Apple’s lead with the iPad/iOS.
The big pre-announcement for this years event goes to the Nokia Microsoft love-fest. The death of Symbian was talked about a lot, although Nokia proceeded to do a dev day around Qt. Whilst Nokia’s Rich Green (CTO) encourages Symbian/Qt devs to continue supporting the 250 million Symbian phones out there for the next 18 months the reality is Nokia have no migration path to Windows Phone for devs and hence no good story for those who were addressing the Symbian apps market. It’s a tough pill to swallow for Nokia developers but the sooner they pick another platform the better. I was surprised how little noise was made by Android and Research In Motion to attract those stranded Symbian devs, especially RIM as BlackBerry supports a flavour of J2ME on its handsets allowing for some re-use of components. Plenty more to come during the year on this announcement for sure.
Blackberry did a great job of appealing to devs with lots of sessions during their dev day and lots of people at their hall 7 stand, which took up half the app planet hall. About 20 PlayBooks were available for hands-on but you were lucky to get 5 minutes with it as there were 3 people deep at the PlayBook area. Huge interest in it. Suffice to say, if they iron out the few remaining software bugs in time for launch it should do very well. It’s not without its flaws: not having a connection to the BES/MDS will hinder its acceptance in some organisations, but it will equally be an advantage to those cost conscious who can live without constant data connectivity on the move. To clarify: PlayBook has email, contacts and BBM access once you pair to your BlackBerry – however it doesn’t have data access beyond those few once you leave Wifi. So bring on those announced 3G & 4G PlayBooks!
BlackBerry have 20k apps in App World now, with 2 million downloads a day. They have App World in 101 countries and 26 languages. There is definite momentum behind app world and bringing brands to the platform. Brands like British Airways and Sky Sports have great apps on the BlackBerry phone platforms now which shows how serious the big brands are about BlackBerry. A year ago that wasn’t the case.
The corridor conversations around Windows Phone 7 revolve around the fact that its clearly a v1 but it has potential. There are a number of *small* issues that must be solved before it can compete sufficiently: Copy/Paste, display of large lists of apps, native SDK for gamers and so on. With Nokia onboard it has a fighting chance in the smartphone space. However I don’t see it removing much market share from Android, iPhone or BlackBerry but instead converting feature phone users to smarter phones in Nokias key markets. It might even get Nokia into the US market finally. How is Nokia going to differentiate with HTC, Samsung, Motorola, LG and so on: Apps! Navigation was mentioned as one place to start, however I see Nokia getting serious about app development in the coming months something they never quite achieved previously because they were too busy building out their platforms. Despite Nokia’s stock price tanking after the announcement I believe they can become a strong player in the smartphone business. They need to retrain all their inhouse software engineers to build innovative apps on Win Phone and work with Microsoft to bring smartphones to the feature phone users of today. Don’t forget, Nokia manufacture 1 million phones a day right now: that’s the market opportunity and a very pleasing one for Microsoft no doubt.
If it wasn’t for this announcement, Microsoft would have little to show at MWC 2011. They need to speed up the pace of releases on Phone 7 in order to catch up with the competition AND they need a proper tablet OS. Without doubt Redmond are working on a tablet os based on the Phone 7 design and kernel, it will be sufficiently different to cope with larger screens but if they don’t ship or at least announce something in 2011 it will allow competitors to get an inroad to the valuable enterprise market. Let’s face it, there is a reason BlackBerry are rushing the PlayBook to market. iPads are getting a lot of attention from CIOs. I should know, my company is talking to a number of corporate customers who are keen to do apps on tablets this year. So 2011 is definitely the year of the tablet which is why we are focusing our attention at Appesque on both the leading smartphone and tablet platforms right now.
There is plenty written about Android 3.0 which is Google’s OS for Tablets. I won’t get into all the great things that come with Honeycomb, but I’ve seen little written about the downsides and feel its important to put that out there too. In terms of my hands-on time with Honeycomb, I played with it at MWC this week on the Motorola Xoom. So here goes:
It takes up too much of the screen with toolbars. At the top is an app specific toolbar and the bottom is a system toolbar with the ability to navigate back a screen, go to the home screen or switch apps. This will impede its use of small form factors like the 7″ devices.
App switching doesn’t look great, displaying a vertical list on the left of the screen encourages vertical swipes to scroll, this wasn’t natural given that Windows & Mac OS use horizontal scrolling for this same task. I was holding the device in landscape which only added to my frustration at the vertical scroll.
Too many widgets on the screen competing for attention. Visually disappointing as my eyes didn’t know where to land.
A blue wireframe on the screen that shows work areas but absolutely looks weird on first use. Again, on first sight it seemed confusing.
My main concern is the first use scenario, that’s important for consumers but equally for enterprises. By trying to be all things to all people the designers seem to have over-designed the ux. I wonder if it was driven by a need to be different to iOS and webOS given that the design lead (Matias Duarte) came from Palm where he did webOS. I’m all for innovation but not at the cost of a higher learning curve. In fairness, RIM heavily ‘borrowed’ from webOS for its PlayBook user experience. But users won’t care because the PlayBook experience is fantastic. I actually feel it exceeds iOS on the iPad. The multi-tasking webOS-like app switching is very intuitive. However RIM pushed the barrier by using the bezel area to bring in menus and actions. This allows the 7″ screen to focus on the content of your app and the actions to slide into display when needed. It doesn’t resort to physical buttons on the face of the device which is refreshing. If I was a gambling man, I’d put my chips on bezel swipe gestures becoming more widespread across tablet platforms.
It is with great pleasure that I can announce we now have an office in the United States. Appesque has a lot of clients in the US with more than half of our revenue coming from the region. As a small company every hire is a critical hire, and we couldn’t be more pleased when Ann Gambardella joined us as a Mobile Application Consultant. Ann is based in the greater New York area and comes with an extensive background in technology, with over 20 years experience in IT, and has held leadership positions at high profile eCommerce companies such as Columbia House, Priceline and Barnes & Noble. In the past few years, Ann has gained significant experience and expertise in the mobile application space. In fact we met Ann last summer when we did two projects for Buy It Mobility Inc. where Ann was CTO. Ann is deeply technical and will serve our US customers very well both in local presence and expertise. Upwards and onwards!
Why RIM are giving away thousands of PlayBooks November 11, 2010 10 Comments
If you’ve read this blog in the past you’ll know I’ve had a long standing relationship with Research In Motion (BlackBerry) as a development partner since 2002. I came to know the company, mostly the Canadian partner team at a tough time for partners when RIM were transitioning from a C++ based SDK to todays Java SDK. I started with the newer devices which were GPRS based and we had the benefit of starting with the Java SDK. However, at the time there was serious upset in the partner community because long standing development partners who had built products and companies utilizing the C++ platform felt they got a bad deal. Newbies like myself were able to quickly compete with products built from the ground-up and were taking there customers pretty fast. Leaves a bad taste if your one of the C++ developers – it ain’t so easy to replace a skillset in your company overnight.
No doubt RIM lost a number of development partners from the ecosystem as a direct result. Some went out of business pretty fast with others moving over to other platforms that were emerging in the PDA space at the time. The management have learned a lesson of how hard it is to foster a development community, something RIM are getting increasingly better at – despite current misperceptions in the marketplace. To segway slightly, the partner group at RIM today are full of energy and passion to get developers onboard and up to speed – that wasn’t always the case! RIM host developer days around the world, with growing numbers of local groups getting together regularly and RIM are pretty good about sharing information with developers well in advance of release so you can get your apps transitioned in time for device and product launches.
Back to the main point, why so many free playbooks when its obviously a compelling device in its own right – obviously Google’s efforts at giving out N1 to developers attending their events has lead the way to some degree but I feel the main reason comes back to their previous experience transitioning developers. Those mistakes put a dent in BlackBerry partner ecosystem and the same management team who lived through that experience are still in place today. Also, RIM know their precious Java developer partners don’t come in sufficient numbers today to build the volume of apps for the PlayBook launch that gives it a solid start in the market. Plus there is no seamless transition for Java developers to move from the smartphone platform to the tablet OS today. Developers must adopt a new platform (ADOBE AIR) and a whole new SDK in order to ‘play’ in the tablet app market. It’s a tough ask, which needs some serious carrot-dangling to developers. So I commend RIM for taking an initiative which rewards developers (many of whom will be new to the BlackBerry developer community). Its always great to see a company push the boundaries and especially a well established company such as RIM.
At Appesque we’re cranking out PlayBook products and can’t wait to see how the coming months shape up with the launch not so far away now.
A BlackBerry developer moves to iPhone June 8, 2010 2 Comments
As a short intro to give some context, I’ve been developing BlackBerry apps since 2002 when I co-founded Europe’s first BlackBerry applications company called Galty Technologies in Ireland (We’ve since sold and moved on, career wise and geographically in my case to Belgium). Back in the early days we pretended to be a Canadian company in order to signup as a Research In Motion partner as RIM didn’t yet have a European partner program (big thanks to my Aunts Oshawa address!). I’ve had ups and downs along the way with BlackBerry but for the most part I stuck with the platform despite the allure of shiny new competitors. Over the last few years my role required I work on multiple mobile platforms from Symbian C++, Series 40/60/90 and J2ME along with XHTML for the mobile web. I can honestly say all are inferior to the experience on BlackBerry both from a development point of view and from a user perspective. Its not worth writing a post on the differences there so widespread, but to give you a flavor: I’ve had a Nokia developer evangelist tell me in front of a room of developers I must be crazy to build Symbian C++ apps given the level of difficulty and lack of developer assistance – possibly helps a developers ego but not a startups wallet!
I recently moved on to start a consulting development services company with some former colleagues and choose to start with BlackBerry mostly because I had a few projects come through from contacts I made over the years. It was both refreshing to work with a solid development environment (Eclipse with JDE plugin for BB) and a familiar SDK. However, as we worked through our first projects it became clear the additional effort we were expending to support the various screen sizes, embedded hardware components and device form factors not to mention the holy grail of BlackBerry programming – the networking stack was way more than fellow developers on other smartphone platforms. Note: if you develop for BlackBerry 5.0 and choose to support only one device form factor it reduces your pains! However it dramatically reduces your market share as 5.0 has about 15% of total BlackBerry devices on the market.
When asked, iPhone developers seem oblivious to these issues. I do hear experienced Android developers winge about platform fragmentation, but its such early days on Android that its understandable. It may sound like a logical next step for me to move onto Android development given the underlying Java plumbing but I’m language neutral with more languages over the years than you could shake a stick at! So the decision came down to which platform would remove all the negatives from BlackBerry development and provide a faster time to market for applications. Whilst I believe that mobile will be a mixed bag of platforms for a long time, I strongly believe there will be 3 to 4 leading platforms in the coming 5 years. With that in mind and aiming to bring my company, Appesque, into a strong position in terms helping our clients to support the leading smartphone platforms I dug deeper into the iPhone development stack. These are my findings presented in bullet format because you’ve got other things to do than read blogs all day.
Positives of developing for iPhone:
- Ease and speed of development – way superior to BlackBerry (Interface Builder anyone, plus one device)
- Device consistency – hardware feature set, screen dimensions, available fonts, no outside UI customizations – carrier branding
- Solid deployment model, with in-app purchases, storage space limited to GBs instead of MBs.
- Fantastic HTML5 browser experience
- Openness – (I hear you scream already) but its not like BlackBerry is OPEN! In fact iPhone’s support for HTML5 put BlackBerry to shame with its useless browser experience to date. Its true that BlackBerry App World are much more relaxed in reviewing apps for submission, however RIM are still missing key features like in-app payments, worldwide payment processing and more flexible price points (min $2.99) which counters any advantage they appear to have in curating apps.
- Deployment just works – deploying BlackBerry apps still sucks, much less thanks to App World availability on some handsets but as an example, my 18 month old Bold can’t install more than 10 apps. New iPad users have more apps than me in their 2 month lifespan!
- Developer environment restricted to Intel Macs with Snow Leopard for the latest iPhone SDK.
- Potential neutering by Apple gods if your app misbehaves. I have to believe most app store submission failures are deserved but there are exceptions – which generally get blogger support to rally Apple into a rethink.
- Objective C/Cocoa may put some folks off, but I hesitated to include this point as the educational support available by Stanford/Apple and the community to learn the language and frameworks is phenomenal. There really is no excuse!
I may come across as harsh on BlackBerry as a development platform, thats because I am I’ve got lots of friends in RIM over the years and honestly wish them growth and continued success in the marketplace. BlackBerry has promised to address a number of the issues I’ve mentioned above with OS 6 coming out in Autumn, but as a developer we have to build where the audience is and BlackBerry 6 will take a long time to get the same traction as iPhone OS/iOS 4.
Ironically I write this on a day when we’ve accepted another BlackBerry client project – shame on me but I should say we’ve already committed to multiple iPhone projects in the coming weeks and will be reflecting our move to support iPhone on our website and to clients shortly so we are taking this move very seriously.
BlackBerry 6 not enough? April 28, 2010 No Comments
At WES this week RIM announced BlackBerry OS 6 with this flashy video.
Obviously the browser and some of the slickness surrounding visual navigation is very welcome, but the proof is in the pudding as we say so lets see how fast this puppy is when it ships next quarter.
Meanwhile over at PC Magazine, Sascha Segan has a go at RIM for not doing enough. As a BlackBerry developer I can only agree that we need more low-level APIs and better hardware. Major pain points with 3rd party BlackBerry apps are lack of UI consistency which is a direct result of poor developer tools. There is no UI builder on BlackBerry, everything is defined in code which leads to lazy developers taking shortcuts and shipping ugly apps. It doesn’t help the platform or the developer community at large for this to continue, so heres hoping RIM step up a gear with developer tools this summer.