I was fortunate enough to attend the BlackBerry developers day conference in Johannesburg yesterday. The basic idea behind these conference days is to allow RIM to meet up with the local community of BlackBerry developers and to discuss new features and future prospects of the BlackBerry platform.
Despite a recent spate of negativity and pessimism surrounding RIM’s decision for an evolutionary – rather than a revolutionary – approach to its OS in order to compete with the likes of iOS, Android, etc. it was immediately clear from the day’s agenda and the initial overview that RIM is genuinely excited and 100% behind the BlackBerry 6.0 OS release. Whether or not the excitement is completely justified or not, one very important signal coming from all of this is that RIM is putting in a substantial effort to improve conditions for its developers, not only from a new features and APIs point of view but also technical documentation and online code samples; this can only be a good thing going forward.
As part of the agenda, BlackBerry covered a wide array of new improvements coming from their latest OS releases. Of the topics discussed, I found the following most interesting:
- RIM is making a big push to encourage developers to forget about targetting pre 5.0 releases with new development and to rather focus on 5 and 6 releases onwards. Their main argument for this comes from OS statistics showing that the OS 5 release alone is being used by more subscribers (around 38%; see pie chart below) when compared to the previous OS versions individually. RIM also argue that subscribers are upgrading (software and devices) rapidly and the 5.0 slice will continue to grow from day to day. I also think that this push by RIM reflects in some way as a self-acknowledgement of the unfriendly environment that pre OS 5.0 releases have provided its developers. I found this quite interesting being in South Africa and I’m not sure if I entirely agree with RIM here. Yes, the 5 OS update is a significant improvement, however, I’m not sure if it is in the best interests of developers to neglect pre 5 OS releases, considering the following: 1) the combined subscriber count of the 4.5 – 4.6.1 releases still outnumbers that of the 5.0 release; 2) OS updates reaching the end user are carrier dependent; and 3) the BlackBerry Curve 8520 – which has been mega in South Africa – still runs a pre 5.0 BlackBerry OS.
- BlackBerry are set to release APIs for use with their BlackBerry Messenger Service (BBM). The APIs will allow applications to build functionality on top of the already extremely popular IM service. Some of the functionality includes embedding chat within an application and sharing content amongst users. Essentially, this will allow developers to integrate the social platform provided by BBM into their applications.
- New APIs and components available to BlackBerry OS 6.0. Without going into too much detail here, several new APIs, UI components, and the ability to tightly integrate an application with the OS (something referred to as a “Super App”) were explained at the conference.
- Fragmentation. The issue of fragmentation amongst the BlackBerry OS versions and devices was flagged as a concern for the future prospects of the platform. I’m not really certain how BlackBerry are going to get around this, particularly as their devices cover such a wide range of the market audience. It also doesn’t help that their new tablet – the BlackBerry PlayBook – will be running an entirely different operating system in QNX.
All in all, the conference day was a success and a first step towards growing a stronger local developer community. RIM is putting a tremendous amount of faith in their OS 6.0 release to help them grow their smartphone market share against some stiff competition. Let’s wait and see…. time will tell 🙂