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I attended BlackBerry Jam Asia in Bangkok late in November 2012, and had the privilege to interact with the leadership, evangelists, business and developer relations leaders at Research in Motion (RIM). Despite being a critic of RIM for the past couple of years, I waited till about 10 days to launch of its latest BlackBerry version christened BB10. I do know of certain aspects that aren't announced yet, which adds to my excitement, but I would like to hold on to them for now. Smartphones aren't new as a term to RIM. Neither are app stores. RIM's problems lied elsewhere, which it seems to have taken care of.
Beginning to appreciate BlackBerry
If RIM had to reach out to its critics, I'd probably be among the most persistent. But all of that is about to change. There are several reasons to this, and that's not because I was privy to an exclusive insight to what it calls the 'most advanced mobile computing platform'. With more passion than a once-rejected love ready to win you back, RIM has kept its word to every date and candle lit dinner it's committed to its community. It's exceeded expectations of those who've been following the company closely and tracking its products.
A couple of analysts I spoke to believe “BB10 definitely has an advantage, if compared to other new platforms such as Windows Phone”. When compared to an open platform such as Android, it won't have challenges such as fragmentation to the extent that developers working on Google's platform face. At the same time, it's of course not as 'closed' in nature as Apple is. Monetarily speaking, it's cheapest to develop for BlackBerry. Yet, at the same time, BlackBerry developers earn more than 4 times what Apple developers earn.
Yes, there is the argument that Apple does design down to the fundamentals, and ends up being inspiration to wannabe designers. Steven Sinofsky who headed strategic business units at Microsoft in the past has echoed Apple subtleties recently by aspiring the future to be all about minimalist design trends. Of course Android has the case of software upgrades, and resultant changes every year.
Daily patent wars
Scrolling down to the overall experience, or user interface per se, there has been a lot of squabbling between Apple and the Android camp. A couple of days ago, a court ruled specifically that Samsung tablets do not infringe Apple patents. After these technological skirmishes, Microsoft had refreshed the ecosytem with its fresh tiled interface in Windows Phone.
While all of that seemed unique enough it left very little space for any new entrant to have room enough to 'innovate' with creative, functional or rather original an approach. For a while it felt each piece of innovation risked being the victim of IP claims and possible sabotage. Surprisingly, Research in Motion has mostly overcome all the above hurdles. It's stripped off bloat, dead weight as an organisation, plugged holes, nearly written off Java for a POSIX-compliant RTOS called QNX that powers car dashboards in over 200 million automobiles across the club, factories as well as nuclear power plants. It's not without reason that the Canadian company is banking so heavily on BlackBerry 10. A micro-kernel, RIM claims, enables them to scale BlackBerry significantly to levels other mobile OSes will not be able to deliver. Although not openly acknowledged by RIM, the possibilities definitely include close integration on your BlackBerry 10 smartphone and your car that runs on its cousin QNX. You could have multiscreen possibilities, smart home, or point-of-sale authentication and transaction. Given RIM's credibility with security, encryption and empowerment, it all makes sense in hindsight.
Passion for innovating: top-down
Having said this, I'm impressed with the fight RIM is putting up with BlackBerry 10. Yes, they've seen some tough times, the world's been writing them off, but after meeting Alec Saunders, VP, Developer Relations at RIM I believe they're heading in the right direction. In fact just a couple of days ago, they upped the developer rewards program from a prize of $1 million to $2 million. During the last hackathon, they had 15000 apps added to their store! They've planned hackathons happening every other day till launch day and beyond.
Unlike Microsoft which harped about a Guinness world record for the largest gathering of developers at work, RIM is ensuring one-on-one support for each developer attending its hackathon. To support and ensure credibility with the apps that they've received RIM has tied up with professional software testing companies. Moreover, it doesn't matter which platform you're comfortable with: whether you're a Windows, Linux or Mac person, its tools are available across the board. You don't have platform lockins. All tools are free! There are no developer sign-up fees! You can submit your app to the store for free! Further, and this is the best part. You can use the SDK, cross platform tools, Adobe AIR, PhoneGap, Java, Flash, or even port apps from existing platforms such as Android to the BlackBerry World. Attend any of the hackathon or port-a-thon and BlackBerry personnel will support you in your transition. That's commitment.
RIM hasn't ignored your financial aspirations and expectations as a developer and has a $10,000 commitment specially for developers. RIM claims developers submitting an app to the App Store, now to be known as the BlackBerry World would earn $10,000 after the end of the first year. If the developer has earned at least $2000, RIM will write of a cheque for the balance at the end of the first year. The company certainly is in love with its developers, and it's clearly evident from its activities in the recent past. It has turned around from being a company with bloat, that's now talking silky smooth, buttery experiences, innovation in user interface, social, music, video, et al. Most of all gaming! These have all been qualities hyper active teenagers found exciting, definitely not the white-shirt-black-tied I'm an IBMer breed.
Without a doubt, RIM is at a position where it's undergoing a paradigm shift in its growth. It's a growth that seems more like a new lease of life. A shift where it shed its past, beginning with its co-founders, then unnecessary headcounts, to properties that weren't making it revenue or were not in line with its objective. As the dust from all the events settle, RIM would have had a new product ready, in about 10 days from now. I am relatively confident of this because ever since I witnessed the Jam session and interacted with the leadership at RIM, they've meet every commitment they've made since then. By this, I mean timelines for the release of Dev Alpha, Dev Alpha B and Dev Alpha C devices, as well as the date for releasing the BB10 SDK out of beta into Gold.
Whether or not BB10 becomes the planet's preferred platform depends on factors beyond its control. The market is rapidly changing, and so is consumer preferences. However for the offerings it provides and the way it's reaching out to its developer community, I'm deeply touched and have begun to feel admiration towards it. Whether or not BB10 is a commercial success, only the yet-unwritten history would declare. But deep within, I believe they are already overcomers and winners! They've laid the foundation of something new, and they're building it ground up. With time, the product will evolve. Indeed they have convinced the critic in me with the love song its senior management sang out: We'll keep on loving you!