Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Notes from a BlackBerry Meetup

I went to the first-ever meeting of the New England BlackBerry Developer's group tonight in Cambridge. An official RIM-sponsored group, this Meetup had as speaker Mike Kirkup, Director of Developer Relations at RIM. He covered a number of developer's topics, and his slides will probably be posted on the Meetup page. I won't try to summarize the presentation ("what makes a 'super app' etc"), since the slides should be available elsewhere, but would like to note a few things that I found interesting from the meeting. Since we had an official RIM rep to answer questions, I thought it was a good session.

Product stuff

Mike was excited about the upcoming WebKit-based browser. Besides rendering improvements, it also offers dramatically improved JavaScript performance. This next-gen browser will be available to some handsets as part of an OS upgrade, but there will be a significant cost in memory usage.

There was also a lot of excitement about the new BESX product. New BlackBerry users tend to be BIS users rather than BES by an 80/20 ratio, reflecting a big switch for RIM's market towards the consumer market. Since BESX does not require a BES data plan, it will serve this new market well.

App World stuff

We know App World has not been a knockout success compared to Apple's store. What I did not know was that RIM deliberately kept a low profile the past year, not pushing App World hard. They wanted to give carriers time to figure out their app store strategy. I presume this means we can expect somewhat stronger marketing of App World in the future.

It has been months since App World 1.1 was released. The next planned release is the major 2.0 release. This release will have a new payment API, among other things. This also means that buyers will have other payment choices besides PayPal. This means credit cards and carrier billing, as well as a RIM-based app store account (as opposed to a PayPal-based) for App World. The developer cut of credit-card and carrier billing funded purchases will vary, and be less than the current 80% cut we are getting from PayPal purchases.

The planned 2.0 release is a disappointment to me, since this means a fix for various Try&Buy license bugs on App World is not imminent. For example, you might not be able to upgrade to the latest version of an app you purchased, or you might not be able to buy an app after you downloaded its free trial. I know that I am not the only developer who has seen these problems. Another vendor also observed problems with Try & Buy apps and posted a tedious workaround. Because of these problems, you should not be surprised to see fewer apps with free trials available on App World. I would love to see App World fixed. While some RIM folks -- including Mike -- would like to see a maintenance release to fix Try&Buy bugs and other problems, only the 2.0 major release is officially planned for now.

Mike pointed out an interesting take on the numbers. While there are only a couple of thousand apps on App World, we should not consider this a meaningful indicator of developer support for the BlackBerry. There are 200,000 registered BlackBerry developers. So the math looks fishy: just 2000 apps from 200,000 developers? Heck, I wrote half a dozen apps myself! What this probably means is that there are a lot of corporate/custom apps that we don't see. Also, since this is not a closed platform, there are many other ways to distribute apps besides App World.

Developer stuff

The next non-beta release of the major developer tools, including the Eclipse Java development plugin, will come out in the next couple of weeks. Among the new features will be a "quick simulator", meaning a version of the OS simulator that can reload a new build of your app without restarting. This revelation drew applause from the whole room.

Mike threw out a few numbers in terms of OS versions. You can support some 96% of the BB market by targetting your apps to OS 4.2.1 and newer. This is due to the popularity of the Curve. You cover just 60% with OS 4.5 and newer, and so on until you get into the single digits with OS 5.

Update 3/17/10Max Binshtok and Chris Baldwin also blogged about this meeting.


  1. Some more notes also available here:


    (I will link to your post, will appreciate if you could link to mine as well from the post. Cheers, Max)

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