Research In Motions BlackBerry DevCon Europe conference, which started Feb. 7 in Amsterdam, placed third-party developers front and center.
Highlighting what he called RIMs commitment to our development community, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins told the developer audience gathered for his Feb. 7 keynote that, without you, the BlackBerry solution wouldnt be complete. (A complete video of the speech is available at the BlackBerry enthusiast Website CrackBerry.com.)
RIM is embarking on an aggressive outreach strategy to third-party developers, centered on handing out free PlayBook tablets at various events. It is also promoting the supposed profitability of developing apps for the BlackBerry line.
The reasoning behind RIMs push seems pretty clear. The past couple of years have proven that mobile products live and die on the variety and usefulness of their app ecosystems. Both Apple and Google have devoted enormous resources to creating and nurturing their respective app platforms, and prospered; Microsoft is intent on doing something similar with its apps marketplace for Windows Phone. (Windows 8, which is expected to debut later this year, will also boast a storefront for apps.)
In its push for a diverse apps ecosystem, however, RIM is faced with an additional complication. The companys hopes for a revival rest on BlackBerry 10, a next-generation operating system scheduled to debut sometime in the second half of 2012. Until that platform arrives, it must rely on BlackBerry devices loaded with BlackBerry 7 OS to hold the market-share line.
But heres the twist: if RIM wants BlackBerry 10 to have a fighting chance, it needs developers creating apps for a platform that doesnt yet exist, and whose code base is different from that underlying previous versions of the BlackBerry OS. Apps developed using BlackBerry Java will not port onto BlackBerry 10, limiting developers working with those tools to BlackBerry 7 or older.
Enter the PlayBook tablet. In a Jan. 10 interview with eWEEK, Alec Saunders, RIMs vice president of developer relations and ecosystem development, suggested that those developers working with HTML5 and WebWorks to create apps for the PlayBook will have relatively little trouble porting those apps to BlackBerry 10, once the latter hits the market. You may need to make some tweaks, but your code base is preserved.
Hence, RIMs aggression in pushing the PlayBook to developers is basically an attempt to kick-start the BlackBerry 10 ecosystem. But given the crowded and competitive nature of the mobility field, it might take more than that for BlackBerry 10 to establish itself as a dominant player in the apps market.