BlackBerry maker Research In Motion played host to more than 1,500 developers in San Jose, Calif., Sept. 25, as it kicked off the American leg of its BlackBerry Jam tour. Once a leader in the smartphone market, RIM has fallen well behind Samsung and Apple but hopes to turn things around with its upcoming BlackBerry 10 platform and smartphones.
Kicking off the event, RIM announced a redesign of its app store, made developers a tempting offer and shared details about the upcoming platform.
The redesigned app store, now App World, will sell movies, TV shows and music, making it more in line with Apple's App Store and Google Play. Even the look—with a carousel of featured games and apps near the top and rows of categorized offerings below—feels, while not envelope-pushing, at least caught up. RIM will begin accepting submissions on Oct. 10—BlackBerry 10 on 10-10 is the marketing department's reminder.
Further working to keep and attract developers—who are critical to a mobile ecosystem but tend to flock to Apple's iOS—RIM introduced a 10k Developer Commitment. The deal: A developer creates a BlackBerry 10 app, gets it approved through the Built for BlackBerry program by Jan. 21, 2013 and with it earns at least $1,000 within 12 months, presumably suggesting a degree of quality. If the app earns more than $1,000 but less than $10,000, RIM will make up the difference, ensuring the developer earns a minimum of $10,000.
"We are convinced this platform will shape the next 10 years as profoundly and as positively as BlackBerry shaped the last decade," RIM CEO Thorsten Heins told the crowd during his keynote. "To do that, we are listening. We are focused. We are excited about our future."
With developers on board, RIM increases its chances of holding on to longtime users, if not even attracting a few new ones. During the morning's keynote period, executives were surely thrilled to share that RIM—which has been described as being in a "death spiral" and "at death's door"—managed to grow its user base since the second quarter, from 78 million users to 80 million.
Heins has told eWEEK that BlackBerry 10 will be nothing like BlackBerry 7 and effectively end the "'in-out' app paradigm." At BlackBerry Jam, he said a little more about what the platform will do, introducing Hub and Flow.
The Hub is a central place for notifications, eliminating the need for users to cycle between various apps, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and even the Calendar for information.
Flow is what RIM calls a new way of interacting with a BlackBerry device—it introduces new hand gestures and device capabilities that make it simpler to access or move between applications, creating greater efficiencies. For example, while looking through details in the Calendar, which can include detailed information about the attendees of an upcoming meeting, a user can gently thumb-swipe the screen aside, revealing the Hub behind it. There's no more returning to the home screen to navigate.
"BlackBerry users will be able to do more, enjoy more and live more... We have elegantly woven together mobile life by bringing together communications, the Internet, people and events, multimedia and social networks ... and more, to give users immediate access to the information they need and want," Heins said. "And then we gave them the ability to take action on that information."
BlackBerry Jam kicked off as investment firm Jefferies forecast strong sales for the iPhone 5, noting that the Apple device will likely cause a "great many [RIM] holdouts to switch."
In RIM's defense, comparing an older BlackBerry handset to the iPhone 5 isn't a level playing field—though comparing it to Samsung's latest smartphone, the Galaxy S III, is. Beside the iPhone 5, Jefferies analyst Peter Misek wrote, the Galaxy S III looks like a "hunk of plastic" and "feels like a waffle to your ear."