BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is hoping its BlackBerry 7 platform will prove popular with the pre-pay market this Christmas. But with the introduction of its QNX-based BlackBerry 10 imminent, will customers want to buy into a nearly overtaken platform?
As is already clear — shown by the fortunes of Nokia's, Microsoft's and RIM's mobile endeavours — apps and a healthy developer ecosystem can make or break a platform, particularly in the early years.
If a mobile OS doesn't have what a customer wants in apps or functionality, they simply won't buy the handsets that use it. It they do get it and become aware of its limitations, they won't make the same mistake twice.
Convincing consumers to buy into a smartphone platform that will soon be superseded by a new, incompatible version seems a tough prospect. However, RIM's UK managing director Rob Orr said on Wednesday that the company sees HTML 5 as the key to driving developers to make the transition from BlackBerry 7 to BlackBerry 10, and with that, bringing customers along for the ride.
"The developer outreach shows an important new side to RIM," Orr said. "We went out to developers and asked which tools do you want to use, how do you want your SDKs, what open-source code do you want to leverage, do you want to use HTML 5?"
"HTML 5 is actually a nice bridging technology between [BlackBerry] 7 and 10. We're a leader in HTML 5 support; we use 95 percent of the same code that's in the Chrome desktop browser in our BB10 browser — so that's one of the development environments that the app community asked us to fully support and leverage."
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Orr added that BlackBerry's tools also make it easy to port Android apps across to work on RIM's devices, although the company hopes that developers will make the shift to creating native BlackBerry 10 apps once they realise the capabilities and benefits.
"What we're trying to show developers is what we have on our platform makes their app special and unique, which will lead to more downloads and more sticky usage," Orr said. "We're also leveraging the existing app ecosystem by making it easy for Android developers to port their applications into our catalogue."
BlackBerry sold more than seven million smartphones in RIM's last quarter, according to Orr. That's somewhat surprising, he argues, given the number of doom-laden headlines the company has been the subject of in the last 18 months.
"We shipped 7.4 million smartphones in the last quarter, which [is] against all of the negative headwinds you're seeing out there; Thorsten and the rest of the team have done an awesome job in my mind of stabilising the ship," he said.