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    Matt Hartley Jan 8, 2012 1:19 PM ET | Last Updated: Jan 8, 2012 1:22 PM ET

    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Bloomberg
    Michael Lazaridis, president, co-chief executive officer and co-founder of Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM), addresses the audience at the Blackberry World conference in Orlando, Florida.
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    TORONTO On a recent visit to New York City, Alec Saunders was looking for a little bit of company.

    As he wandered the streets of Manhattan, Research In Motion Ltd.s vice president of developer relations took out his BlackBerry and tapped out a quick Twitter message, one he had repeated in several American cities on similar trips over the past few months.

    Alec Saunders@asaunders
    NY BB Devs... got any suggetions for a place to meet up? I'm in the Flatiron district right now, and then back up to central park for hotel
    8 Nov 11 ReplyRetweetFavorite
    NY BB Devs got any suggetions [sic] for a place to meet up? Im in the Flatiron district right now, and then back up to central park for hotel

    On the surface, the message itself might seem fairly innocuous; a Canadian executive spending a couple of evenings in the media capital of North America, looking for a few like-minded folks to share a cup of coffee or a few pints.

    But Mr. Saunders Twitter invitation represents more than just a simple request for a Tweetup. It is emblematic of RIMs evolving attitude towards application developers, the third party companies building games and other software that run on on RIMs BlackBerrys, Apple Inc.s iPhones and Google Inc.s Android software.

    There was a time when push email was the only application RIM needed on its BlackBerrys. But today, email is not enough. Consumers are demanding more from their smartphones and tablet computers, and as a result, RIM and its rival manufacturers are locked in a battle to draw developers to their ecosystems, in an effort to stock their own application storefronts with news readers, Twitter applications and Angry Birds.

    Through Mr. Saunders, RIMs message is clear: If youre a developer thats interested in building applications for BlackBerrys, Mr. Saunders wants to talk to you.

    Indeed, RIM needs you more than ever.

    Markets are created one conversation at a time, Mr. Saunders said in a recent interview in Toronto, referencing the well known technology book, The Cluetrain Manifesto.

    Thats what I aim to do, thats what I want my team to do. To have conversations with developers. One on one, sometimes one to many. Listen. Be heard and go back to the development community and say we heard this and this is what were doing, and to employ that virtuous feedback that you get.

    The problem is, it seems many developers have already tuned RIM out.

    After a disastrous 2011 which included software delays, the disappointing launch of the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet and the worst service outage in the companys history RIMs reputation in the developer world has taken a hit, and the companys BlackBerry platform has become a third-tier development option for many application creators, with both Apple and Android ranking as higher priorities.

    As a result, RIM is facing a crisis of confidence within the developer community. Part of the problem is that RIMs share of the smartphone market in the United States has plummeted to just 9% in the third quarter of last year, down from more than 42% in February of 2010. For developers hoping to put their applications in front of as many potential customers as possible, RIMs declining market share presents a problem.

    Ever since Apple launched the App Store in 2008, one of the primary driving forces of smartphone and tablet adoption has been the availability of applications which users can download to customize their devices. According to a recent survey from the Boston-based market research firm Strategy Analytics, nearly 70% of consumers said applications factor into their decision making process when they considered what smartphone to buy.

    Unfortunately, based on pure volume of applications, RIM currently lags significantly behind its larger rivals. RIMs BlackBerry App World boasts less than 50,000 applications. Apples App Store, meanwhile, offers in the neighbourhood of 600,000 applications, and Googles Android Marketplace tops out at nearly 330,000 apps, according to a recent study from Mobilewalla.

    Its now clear that in order for RIM to survive, it needs to narrow the app gap.

    They clearly have a lot of developers who have been in the RIM camp for a very long time, said Josh Martin, director of apps research for Strategy Analytics.

    The challenge is how you expand beyond that core group of RIM devotees to bring the platform to the next level, and it seems like thats where they [RIM] have really struggled. Its really hard to go to market and say, build for our platform, but we cant even build a native email client for our tablet inside a year. If youre a developer and youre looking at it externally, that has to make you wonder if this is a platform you want to be building on.

    Over the past few years, RIMs platform has earned a reputation for being challenging for developers. In addition to RIMs wide array of devices with varying screen sizes, inputs and form factors making the customization of single application time consuming compared to other platforms, the companys developers tools have also faced criticism for being unnecessarily complex.

    In an effort to encourage developers already building applications for RIMs devices to stick with the company, and to entice new developers into the fold, RIM plans to standardize its BlackBerry smartphones and PlayBook tablets on a single software platform, BlackBerry OS 10, or simply, BB 10. RIM has built its new software on Web standards, such as HTML 5 and Adobe Air, as a way of simplifying the development process for app makers.

    However, RIM has delayed the transition to BB 10 until at least the second half of 2012, pushing back the companys long awaited transition.

    Now, with the next generation of BlackBerrys possibly a year away, it will be up to Mr. Saunders and the rest of his team to encourage developers to build for the companys forthcoming PlayBook 2.0 software due out in February and the BlackBerry 7 OS, which powers RIMs current generation of BlackBerry smartphones, while RIM finishes up BB 10.

    Theres a great market for applications on BlackBerry today, Mr. Saunders said. We grew our market from 50 million to 70 million last year. Thats a 44% growth rate. For developers looking to target a large mobile community, look no further. BlackBerry is here.

    At his unofficial coming out party as the new head of developer relations at last years developer conference, Mr. Saunders went straight to the numbers, listing off several reasons why developers building apps for BlackBerry are making more money than their counterparts on other platforms.

    He told the crowd that BlackBerry is the second most profitable application market in mobile, and that 13% of BlackBerry developers are generating more than $100,000 from their products.

    The message was simple: people are buying apps on BlackBerry.

    BlackBerry users tend to be people who are successful, who are business people; people who dont mind spending a little bit of money on applications, Mr. Saunders said. Historically, weve seen that BlackBerry users spend more on applications than other users in other markets.

    According to data from The Yankee Group, about 15% of the applications downloaded through RIMs BlackBerry App World are paid applications, which ranks second only to Apples 20%. However, the average selling price for a BlackBerry application is higher than competing apps on other platforms.

    While RIMs app gap might seem like a detriment for the company, Mr. Saunders said it can be an advantage for developers. One of the complaints about Apples App Store is that, because of the number applications in the store, it can be difficult to stand out and be noticed by users.

    One of our competitors has 900 solitaire apps on their platform, Mr. Saunders said. If youre a guy who makes a living developing card game applications for mobile devices, I guarantee you, youre not going to make many sales when you have 900 competitors on the platform.

    Part of the reason why developers like Kerry Morrison arent creating BlackBerry applications is because the clients theyre building applications for arent asking for them.

    When the chief executive of Torontos Endloop Mobile sits down with potential clients, the refrain is often the same. An owner of a chain of coffee shops might want an app for iPhone and an app for Android, and then only if theres time an app for BlackBerry.

    But once he tells the client that a BlackBerry application will cost them about three times as much as one built for iPhone, many clients decide they dont want a BlackBerry app at all.

    Im not charging a BlackBerry tax, and Im not giving a discount because were good at iOS, Mr. Morrison said. Were targeting those rates because the development takes time its simple math. Developers are simple people; we go where the money is.

    One of the bright spots in RIMs developer strategy has been the companys decision to allow app makers to connect their applications with RIMs wildly popular BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) instant messaging technology.

    According to Mr. Saunders, downloads on the BlackBerry platform grew from 90 million per month in August to 140 million a month by October; growth fueled primarily by BBM connected apps.

    In fact, there are roughly 200 BBM connected apps in RIMs BlackBerry App World, but those apps account for 10% of the downloads of the entire catalogue.

    Although RIM has maintained its popularity in Canada market research firm comScore Inc. reported last month that BlackBerry remains the most popular smartphone platform in Canada RIM is falling out of favour with Americans, another red flag for the developer communities in New York and Silicon Valley.

    Our American clients are even worse than the Canadian ones, Mr. Morrison said. Canada still has a bit of that RIM love. The Americans dont care about RIM. Maybe its because of the companies were working with, and theyre not in [the enterprise] space. But RIMs just not on their radar.

    Another possible reason why some developers may have lost confidence in the RIM ecosystem is that the companys approach to applications has seemingly shifted several times over the past few years.

    At last years Developer Conference, RIM co-chief executive officer Mike Lazaridis said the company wasnt going to compete with Apple and Android on the number of applications available in App World, but rather would concentrate on helping partners build Super Apps that would integrate with core BlackBerry technology, such as email, calendar and BBM.

    RIMs strategy was that it could compete with Apple and Android based on the quality of applications, rather than the quantity. But RIMs decision to create a system that will allow Android applications to run through a special app window on the PlayBook seemed to contradict that message.

    It comes back to a lack of confidence in themselves, or lack of discipline to what their market message is going to be, said Mr. Martin of Strategy Analytics.

    If youre going to be dedicated to Super Apps, you need to be dedicated to Super Apps; dont give up on them after six months. Work with the partners that have been with you the whole time. Dont integrate a number of Android applications that quite honestly are not going to work terribly well on different devices RIM has to pick a strategy and stick with it for more than a short period of time.

    Indeed, even some of RIMs closest allies in the developer community are taking a wait and see approach with the new BB 10 platform. Torontos Polar Mobile has produced more than 300 applications for BlackBerry devices, but that doesnt mean the company is married to the platform forever, according to chief technology officer Michael Russo.

    We have a lot of different pressures from different manufacturers that were doing deals with to develop apps on their platforms, he said. What this means is that whenever were doing platform level development, we need to think carefully, and long and hard about where we want to allocate our resources. That being said, were still seeing a lof of usage on BlackBerry.

    Mr. Russo believes BB 10, when it arrives, will make things easier on application creators and will improve RIMs standing with developers.

    Polar Mobile specializes in creating applications for media companies, such as newspapers and magazines, which can quickly distribute content to mobile devices. While Polar initially made its mark by helping large North American publishers like Sports Illustrated and TIME Magazine launch BlackBerry applications, the company is seeing greater interest for BlackBerry apps in emerging markets, the same areas where RIM is seeing strong sales growth.

    We have a bit of a balancing act, Mr. Russo said. The publishers in North America, theyre not clamouring for BlackBerry the way they used to be a couple of years ago. The publishers in the Middle East and Asia, they are. In North America, its all about iOS and Android, but around the world, its much different. BlackBerry is much more revered.

    With much of RIMs growth coming from international markets, including the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, the BlackBerry maker is under the gun to help developers in those regions create local-specific applications that help improve the BlackBerry experience for new users.

    Mr. Saunders said that half of the developer relations team is already international, and that RIM has representatives spreading the BlackBerry gospel in Europe, Africa and Latin America.

    Were continuing to expand and hire developer evangelists, Mr. Saunders said. You need to be close to the people you want to work with, the developer communities. But developer communities dont typically come to you, you go to them, so well be putting people in market for that purpose. People who are in-market are the best suited to understand what the requirements of that local market are.

    Posted in: FP Tech Desk, Mobile, Software, Startups Tags: Alec Saunders, Android, Angry Birds, App World, Apple, Apple Inc., Applications, BlackBerry, BlackBerry PlayBook, Developers, Endloop Mobile, Google, Google Inc., Josh Martin, PlayBook Tablet, Polar Mobile, Research In Motion, Research In Motion Ltd., RIM, Smartphone, Strategy Analytics, Tablet, Waterloo

    Article can be found at:

    RIM's quest to woo back developers | FP Tech Desk | Financial Post
    01-08-12 08:54 PM