BlackBerry developer relations: the state of the nation

After recently taking a technological quantum leap forward and getting myself down to Staples to buy my first white board, I was pleased this morning to mark in a meeting for next month with Mike Kirkup who is RIM’s director of developer relations.Opportune timing perhaps given that this Thursday also sees the London leg of the BlackBerry Innovation Forum held in the salubrious surrounds on the Sofitel London Heathrow T5.

After recently taking a technological quantum leap forward and getting myself down to Staples to buy my first white board, I was pleased this morning to mark in a meeting for next month with Mike Kirkup who is RIM’s director of developer relations.

Opportune timing perhaps given that this Thursday also sees the London leg of the BlackBerry Innovation Forum held in the salubrious surrounds on the Sofitel London Heathrow T5.

Although the ‘Who Should Attend’ section of this event’s website lists an unsurprisingly broad spectrum of potential user types, it is probably IT administrators who would get the most from the day I would guess. As RIM puts it, this event will allow you to, “Go away with ideas and inspiration for developing a mobile strategy for your organisation.”

If that question was at the forefront of your mind, would you bother going to a single OEM brand-specific event though? With BlackBerry’s relative popularity I guess it’s fair to say perhaps yes.

So what else is going on in the BlackBerry world right now from a developer perspective? The company’s application storefront, named BlackBerry App World, was opened up to developers at the start of this year and since has expanded into Europe and Latin America as a channel for third-party software to be delivered to the public.

But just how vibrant is the activity here and how successful is it? I managed to get some comment direct from RIM in line with today’s event.

“BlackBerry App World has opened the door to another channel for our growing partner and developer community to market and, for some, sell their own applications directly to BlackBerry customers. The catalogue comprises both consumer focused tools and business apps and is growing at a phenomenal rate. Right now we’re also seeing more and more customers download tools that are relevant to their needs and lifestyle,” commented Rory O’Neill, senior director of Business Marketing, EMEA at RIM.

RIM also points out that the ‘double-whammy’ of two BlackBerry devices being launched in the past week, namely the BlackBerry Storm2 and the BlackBerry Bold 9700, also presents a new opportunity for developers. Well, in fairness, RIM would say that any new device presents a new opportunity for developers wouldn’t they?

But there could be more to that comment as both devices come sporting a new OS – namely 5.0 - which is the first BlackBerry OS to support Gears and SQLite for BlackBerry Widgets. This is good news, as the more subtle undercurrents of development come to the fore and are supported by a new OS, they can manifest themselves as fairly meaty augmentations – and in this case I would argue that they do.

To encourage developers to embrace the new OS the folks at RIM have also launched an update to its Java Development Environment 5.0 with new APIs and a new UI. Extra side dishes with a tasty garnish all of their own perhaps? Certainly a full meal at the smorgasbord table of BlackBerry application development one would imagine.

Today’s BlackBerry forum seems to be very use-case based with lots of presentations devoted to lovely subjects like ‘mobile workforces in practice’ and that sort of thing. Personally, if I’d had to pick one track throughout the day I would highlight A Strategic Approach to Mobility by 
Marc Van Der Laan – RIM’s director for application & mobility planning. The blurb reads, “Now is the time for you to look at your architecture and see where consolidations can be made in server hardware or more efficiency can be gained by mobilising additional applications to mobile workers.”

New devices, new OSs, new application development streams and cocktails and canapés in Terminal 5, what more could you ask for? A little less gloss perhaps, but then this is the salesy end of mobile – the only question then is, when will mobile become a fully embedded computing necessity if it is not already today?