Late last week I got to share milk and cookies with Mike Kirkup who is RIM’s director of developer relations. Mike was passing through London on the European leg of his 'press the flesh with press' tour 2009 after the recent RIM developer conference in the USA, which ZDNetUK has already reported on.
Keen to get some extra insight into what RIM's most recent announcements mean for developers, I asked him what he thought was really impacting and driving the commercial realities on the front line of BlackBerry application development.
Kirkup pointed to RIM's positive pro-partner business model as he called it. Having initially partnered so closely with the carriers to launch the product, the company identifies a symbiotic relationship with current RIM carriers or directly with developers themselves as key to the maximising sales channels for new applications and the future success of the company as a whole.
Current augmentations to the BlackBerry Application Platform include support for OpenGL ES for the development of 3D games and graphics; an upcoming Java GUI builder and BlackBerry Theme Studio for the creation of, you guessed it, themes for the BlackBerry.
“Our own application store front has always been an easy way for small developers to reach out to customers,” Kirkup told me. “But popular portals like CrackBerry seem to have developed quite a symbiotic relationship with us. If CrackBerry runs a positive feature on a new application (and they have their own store-front to sell it) the BlackBerry App Store downloads might also increase in a typical instance of this scenario.”
So RIM is all about choice now. Well, what corporate tech body out there doesn’t have “customer choice” hewn in stone among the first lines of their company mantra? So what does it really mean for BlackBerry developers?
In terms of day-to-day development, the company has pushed for choice of developer tools to be widened and says that the current plug-in selection supports Eclipse, Java and there is new support for Adobe tools too. There’s also a new developer support forum in Spanish to cater for the work being done by our South American cousins.
Hugo Chávez offers a $400 technology tax credit apparently and the Venezuelans regard the BlackBerry as a must-have status symbol. I’m going to take his word for it; I don’t feel I need to fly to Caracas to confirm that one for you.
The recent arrival of the drag and drop GUI builder is designed to allow hobbyist game developers to bring their ideas to life more easily. But I put it to Kirkup that while this is lovely and shiny and interesting, it’s not of much real value to the business world.
“Yes I agree, a lot of fairly average games might be created, but there is always the chance that one might just break the mould and something amazing could develop. Also, this makes it really easy to prototype a new application if you are looking for an investor,” said Kirkup.
RIM is also harping on and on about payment services and application monetisation at the moment. Under the new payment services structure (if you want them to) RIM will look after taxation and carrier billing issues. This currently runs at an 80:20 developer-RIM split if you use PayPal, but the wider strategy in this section of the business is yet to be fully laid out. In a related area, new advertising service APIs exist to optimise and localise advertisements to individual applications if they become successful.
So I’ll leave the last word with Kirkup himself. A programmer at heart, he’s clearly close enough to the corporate soul of the company to be able to preach the gospel according to RIM with some conviction. “We’re aiming for a higher level of services across the board from every aspect,” he said. Let’s hope it’s not all just talk, for the most part it appears to be real.