RIM Rages Against the Dying of the Developer Light

A recent report from Baird Equity Research claims mobile developers are fleeing from Research In Motion in a mass exodus.

However, RIM’s fighting back. The report’s findings are far from the truth, according to Alec Saunders, the vice president of developer relations for the BlackBerry maker.

In fact, he wrote in a blog post Friday, the BlackBerry App World vendor base has grown 157 percent over the past year, adding 15,000 new apps to the catalog since Jan. 1. The company’s BlackBerry 10 Jam World Tour, currently stopping in 23 cities worldwide, is selling out, and the feedback from developers has been “phenomenal,” he added.

Those claims don’t seem to reflect the data from Baird, though. Developer sentiment toward the upcoming BlackBerry 10 platform and RIM’s current BlackBerry 7 is at a new low, according to a survey of developers conducted by the research firm. It found that on a 10-point scale, on which 10 is excellent and 1 is poor, sentiment toward the unreleased BlackBerry 10 platform has fallen from 4.6 to 3.8 in the latest quarter. BlackBerry 7 also took a drop, from 3.8 down to 2.8.

Those numbers put BlackBerry’s OS more in line with HP’s almost dead webOS than with Android and iOS, the two most popular mobile operating systems. Sentiment for Google’s Android is 8.7 and outlook for Apple’s iOS is 9.3.

RIM didn’t respond to our request for further detail.

Rocky Road at RIM

Given RIM’s struggles in the smartphone market recently, the data from Baird might be a more complete look at the situation than Saunder’s claims, said Jordan W. Edelson, CEO and founder of Appetizer Mobile.

In the past, said Edelson, his clients and developers were enthusiastic supporters of RIM and developed apps for BlackBerry and the company’s Playbook. As its platform becomes less relevant in the iOS- and Android-driven market space, though, he said the firm is more neutral toward RIM, and they don’t see clients requesting development in the platform.

“The reason for this is in market penetration — what BlackBerry has left of it. BlackBerry simply isn’t the hot new thing anymore, and that being the case, getting a return on investment is much more difficult,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Visibility and mass appeal is lost currently on the BlackBerry platform.”

BlackBerry’s latest quarterly earnings report reflected that sentiment. Once a leader in the mobile marketing space, RIM reported a $518 million net loss on the quarter. It also announced it would be cutting about 5,000 jobs. In addition, the company had to delay, again, the launch of the BlackBerry 10 — RIM’s newest smartphone platform that is supposed to help the company regain its place as an innovator.

Tough Bet on the Future

BlackBerry 10, which is now set to debut in the first quarter of 2013, is supposed to be a more advanced operating system better equipped to browse the Web and run apps. RIM insists that developers are eager to design for the BlackBerry 10 OS, but Pascal Rettig, co-owner of Cykod Web Development, said that’s most likely developers that are already invested somehow in the system, or ones that use a cross-platform tool kit such as PhoneGap or Titanium.

“Mobile developers aren’t going to target a native app at a platform that’s dying unless they are already on the platform, in which case momentum will keep them going,” he told TechNewsWorld. “So RIM may not be dying that quickly, but are any new developers jumping on board? I really doubt it.”

In addition, with wildly popular operating systems already saturated into the marketplace, Edelson said he’s not seeing as much of the enthusiasm, and that developers are taking a more “wait and see” approach to BlackBerry 10 before they dive headfirst into a system that they’re unsure is ever going to launch.

“RIM needs to attract average consumers back to their platform and handsets again,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Right now, they’re just holding onto some enterprise and corporate customers. That’s not going to be enough to make developers want to develop for their platform. They need to regain mindshare and relevance in the new smartphone world. Unfortunately, if they don’t do something soon they’ll be as irrelevant as pagers.”

The challenge to remain relevant also comes with choices from RIM about whether they want to be: a company that targets the mainstream consumer market or one that relies mostly on enterprise and corporate sales. If it tries to target the consumer market, it needs a fresh way of thinking, said Edelson.

“They need innovators, creatives, developers all to be involved in the process,” he said. “Developers will only come back if they see the platform as something exciting, and right now, it’s simply stale. They’re going to continue to bleed developers until they change their strategy. Even with BlackBerry 10, it may turn out to be a good update to the platform, but I’m afraid that it will be missing the ‘wow’ factor.”

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