Despite the fact that RIM is floundering in the blogosphere and on the stock market for anyone who knows how to buy shares, developers are staying with the BlackBerry platform. Many join for the open and tightly integrated software/hardware connection, for the large international market share, and for the ability to work closely with RIM to create future products and OS updates. But even this, according to analysts, may not be enough to keep RIM’s products and OS in the smartphone race.
Ian Murphy, analyst at Creative Intellect Consulting UK, said that RIM has several issues to overcome before it can even think about reclaiming its status as a leading player in the market.
“RIM doesn’t know how to run an App Store. They are trying to get into the game and hook the youth market. The introduction of the QNX OS on the PlayBook has created confusion and has done RIM a disservice. The BBM integration came late and won’t change RIM’s place,” Murphy said.
Developers, despite Murphy’s predictions, are creating and updating applications for RIM’s devices. According to Alec Saunders, vice president of developer relations at RIM, there are approximately 46,000 applications in the App World, the RIM BlackBerry application store, 200 of which utilize the BBM connect feature, which RIM touts as one of its most innovative. BBM Connect, according to some developers, is a large download driver.
BBM Connect allows developers to plug BBM messaging capabilities into their application for a quick chat function and, it allows end users to share any application using BBM Connect through chatting on their devices.
RIM’s developer retinue
ScoreMobile, creator of sports applications that cater to professional and college sports, credits the popularity of its SportsMobile FC product with BBM Connect. And Foursquare, the creator of the location-based check-in service, also credits the spike in downloads of its updated BlackBerry product to the Connect integration.
“BlackBerry is very much a big part of our usage; we just hired another BlackBerry developer,” said Pete Nofelt, lead BlackBerry developer at Foursquare.
“[RIM’s devices] offer a large user base of varying demographics. Lawyers, people in the financial industry, teenagers and those interested in BBM all use the devices.”
While Foursquare does not release specific data about usage on individual mobile platforms, Nofelt confirmed that the amount of users on the BlackBerry platform is “very much on par with the iOS and Android” platforms.
For Foursquare, he said, the integrations with the BlackBerry hardware native functions—e-mail, contacts, calendars—are key. Users can easily pick a contact, create an e-mail and send it directly in the application, he said, adding that users can also share their location as their BBM status, which is where BBM Connect helped the company.
“We had over 200,000 downloads [of BBM Connect] in one day, it really blew us away,” Nofelt said. The 200,000 included new and existing users, which broke past records, he said.
BBM Connect also helps developers with a product that is built on user-generated content. Poynt, a local search platform application, said its BlackBerry user base is the second largest out of the total community of 11.5 million. Andrew Osis, CEO of Poynt, said iOS has the third-largest user base, with Android at the top of the pack.
He said that Poynt has always been on BlackBerry because when it was created in 2008, it had the largest user base. Poynt operates in nine countries and provides reviews, offers and location information to end users with the help of partners and user-generated content.
Osis said Poynt is, at the end of the day, simply interested in reaching users. “The more the merrier,” he said.
Will they come?
But will there be users to reach as RIM marches into 2012?
Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, said RIM will not go away overnight, but that there may be a time when the company’s success in other markets won’t be enough to make it a relevant player.
The market share decrease, reported by Gartner in November for the third quarter, reflects the pressure RIM is under, according to Milanesi. Gartner’s study of the worldwide smartphone market revealed that in the third quarter of 2011, Android doubled its presence from last year from 25.3% to 52.5%. Apple decreased slightly from 16.6% in 2010 to 15.0% in 2011, and RIM decreased from 15.4% in 2010 to 11.0% in 2011. Gartner also reported that Symbian holds second place in market share, but also decreased from 36.3% in 2010 to 16.9% in 2011.
Milanesi said RIM needs to look outside of its core market—people who have embraced BBM, teenagers, and those who need e-mail efficiency and at low cost—and reach out to others.
“RIM is being attacked in the enterprise space because enterprises are starting to feel that Apple’s iOS platform offers good enough e-mail and security,” she said, adding that in sectors where the IT department is looking for added iOS security, they will simply add a third-party product.
Despite Milanesi’s prediction, Mark Montgomery, senior manager at ScoreMobile, believed that there will always be users for SportsMobile FC on RIM’s platforms because of its popularity in Latin America.
ScoreMobile’s usage is, in the United States, primarily a “strong mix of Android and iOS.” Montgomery added that ScoreMobile’s applications are different for each operating system, and the level of integrations also differs. Echoing Nofelt, he said RIM’s operating systems and devices are key to ScoreMobile’s continued success.
“We work directly with RIM in developing native features, and we can work with them to learn how to best use the tools available,” Montgomery said.
All three said their teams are interested in developing for the PlayBook and are deciding how it fits into their overall application strategy. Milanesi said this is an excellent opportunity for RIM to take the edge over Windows Phone in the tablet market, particularly if RIM switches to the QNX platform before Windows 8 is released.
“The OS evolution has to be done quickly. Corporations are interested in tablets, but they will look to Windows if the PlayBook isn’t fixed,” Milanesi said, adding that enterprises will be interested in any Windows offering for tablets because of the integration it offers, the hardware and software vendors it shares, seamless integration with existing offerings, and an easy-to-use system with which end users in the organization are already familiar.