RIM yesterday introduced new development tools for its forthcoming BlackBerry 10 operating systems at its BlackBerry Jam Americas event in San Jose. The company introduced numerous development tools and capabilities at the show, including a new Native C/C++ plug-in for Microsoft Visual Studio, and an updated simulation environment that better supports Apache Cordova (a.k.a. PhoneGap).
RIM also demonstrated its new user interface, known as Flow, at the event. The navigation layer offers a more modern feel for an operating system that grew up on non-touch-screen devices.
But RIM’s offerings to developers aren’t limited to new tools and APIs. The company is preparing to re-launch its BlackBerry App World application store in early October, and with that re-launch comes a new effort to actually entice developers with money.
In his keynote, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins said that RIM would guarantee US$10,000 per application accepted into the BlackBerry App World store. Even if a given application does not sell $10,000 worth in the store, RIM’s CEO promised to make up the difference, up to $10,000, to developers.
That means RIM would be paying developers simply to offer their applications on the BlackBerry. And those developers will have more options available to them than the standard BlackBerry Java, emphasizing the use of Eclipse, HTML5, PhoneGap and Visual Studio as ways to build applications for it.
As for BlackBerry 10, Heins promised that the new operating system would ship on devices in Q1 2013.
Why are they here?
Any developer could be easily forgiven for dismissing RIM at this point. After years of fumbling and shrinking its market share, the company had lost its way when it came to developers. Previously, RIM’s message to developers in 2010 and 2011 had been for them to port Android applications to the platform. That, coupled with a number of late deliveries of new development tools, combined to create a lackluster ecosystem for RIM’s new PlayBook tablet.
But developers at BlackBerry’s event seemed more upbeat about the platform. Xitij Ritesh Patel, founder of mobile payment startup Taab, was at the show to demonstrate the Near Field Communication (NFC) capabilities of his company’s BlackBerry application. NFC is only available, currently, on the Android and BlackBerry platforms, giving RIM a rare leg up on the iPhone.
Patel said that, despite being asked to attend and speak, “I was coming anyway. I came because I’ve been a developer for a long time, and I recently started getting back into mobile development after getting in with the old Nokia S60 and using the original BlackBerry Java. I even did some Windows CE development back in the day.”
Patel said he’s also been developing applications on Android, letting him compare BlackBerry 10 with Google’s mobile platform. “I can say with confidence that BlackBerry Java was crap for developers. It was buggy, and it was cumbersome to get anything done. It was powerful for what it was—considering where it came from and that it’s been there since 2000. It was time for a change.
“That being said, after having developed for Android, Android is making a lot of the same mistakes RIM did by going with Java. Some of the difficulties I’ve had with my own Android applications are the same issues I had with BlackBerry years ago.”
Miguel Sucre, director of Venezuelan mobile application consulting firm Mobile Media, said that he came to BlackBerry Jam Americas in order to check out RIM’s new SDKs firsthand.
“We wanted to see all the new SDKs and all the tools the new BlackBerry 10 device has, and to see all the progress they’ve made since May,” he said. “We’re here to see what the BlackBerry 10 device will offer our engineering team. We build more than 140 applications for the BlackBerry platform in South America and Latin America for companies such as newspapers and television networks.”
While Sucre was upbeat about the potential of the BlackBerry 10 platform, he was skeptical about RIM’s ability to execute on its vision. “We developers want something that is ready to go, with not many bugs, and without having to struggle with the development tools,” he said. “I just received a call from my development team, and they could not update their new BlackBerry 10 Alpha devices to the new beta version that was released today… I would like to see BlackBerry improve those things so we don’t have problems updating or downloading the tools, so we can just focus on development.”
RIM’s conference also drew at least one carrier. AT&T was on hand with a small booth to demonstrate its development tools and APIs. AT&T is offering tools and services that are available to any network user, regardless of platform.
Balsu Thandu, director of the developer program at AT&T, said that “BlackBerry 10 is the next generation of BlackBerry, so we’re very interested in finding out how it will adopted by developers and how we can partner with them. That’s why we have a booth here, to help developers understand what Web services we can offer.”
To that end, AT&T is demonstrating mobile payment, speech recognition and messaging APIs at the show. Additionally, the company is demonstrating its Application Resource Optimizer, which allows developers to find battery, performance and networking bottlenecks in their mobile applications.
Still, not everyone at BlackBerry Jam Americas is here for business. Chris Maurer, a graduate student at the University of Georgia, is here for his own education. “I’m a doctoral student, and my dissertation is on the BlackBerry ecosystem,” he said. “I’m trying to talk to developers and get a feel for their relationship with RIM, and the different policies and tools provided by RIM, and ultimately how that impacts the users. It seems like the developer base so far is pretty positive about BlackBerry 10 and the opportunities it’s going to afford.”