In unveiling its long-awaited BlackBerry 10 operating system and slick-looking Z10 and Q10 smartphones, the renamed Research in Motion has offered up a critical key to winning over developers and, it hopes, building up its lackluster app ecosystem.
Can the company — now named BlackBerry — pull it off? Developers say maybe, depending on how their community reacts to BB10′s Android porting and repackaging approach.
Port Me Over, Scotty
“BlackBerry is working to make an inclusive platform, one where you can get to it from a lot of different SDKs,” says Alan Carwile, a senior software engineer for Hitachi Data Systems and a BlackBerry apps developer hobbyist.
The new platform allows developers to port apps by way of Android Runtime, BlackBerry Java, Java, C/C++ and HTML5. If BlackBerry can gain critical mass beyond the 70,000 apps now offered in BlackBerry World, it stands a chance of becoming as serious a plaftform as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, which each have hundreds of thousands of apps available.
Developers believe BlackBerry may be able to convince many Android developers to port their work over to BB10, but it won’t be a slam dunk. Those working with iOS will be harder to convince, they say.
“I don’t know yet if BB10 will take much away from the Android device market,” says Michelle Greenlee, who leads the Dice Android Talent Community. “The BB ecosystem has been lacking for many years now. I think BB10′s entry is late. It could be a competitor, but I’m not sure how well it will do against Android.”
Apps are critical to BlackBerry’s survival. Its meager offerings stand in the way of attracting the hordes of users that iOS and Android enjoy, and hardware features will only take you so far when it comes to luring new customers. In the end, it’s a smartphone’s functionality that can drive sales.
That notion isn’t lost on BlackBerry, which has trotted out a number of incentives to get developers primed up to pitch apps to its store. For example, the company recently launched a $10 million “10K Developer Commitment,” which guarantees $10,000 in sales to developers of apps that earn at least $1,000 in fees from at least 100 unique users. BlackBerry will pay them the difference between $1,000 and $10,000 until the allocated dollars for the program runs out. The deadline to submit an app has been extended to Feb. 18.
Developers have noticed BlackBerry’s efforts. “I’ve been impressed with the support BlackBerry has given developers. They’ve invested in the community from hackathons to training sessions,” says Carwile, who’s participated in some of the sessions.
The Enterprise Is Key
Of course apps developers, like BlackBerry itself, need customers. But some enterprise customers are sitting on the sidelines.
Chief architects of one major bank, for example, say that while they currently support BlackBerry, few of their customers use the platform to do their banking. They’ll keep an eye on BB10, but their new mobile platform will support BlackBerry only via HTML 5 using Cordova.
That’s not a good sign. Enterprise customers, after all, form BlackBerry’s long-term customer base.
Dice Talent Community Guides Chris Jones (iOS), Michelle Greenlee (Android) and Rob Reilly (Mobile Development) contributed to this report.