RIM asks developers to keep loving BlackBerry. Do I say 'I do'?

It all comes down to where you want to spend your money: On an unproven platform that happens to be running late, or a platform that has actual customers?
Written by Matt Baxter-Reynolds, Contributor

Today saw the start of BlackBerry Jam Americas - RIM's developer conference designed to get the word out to those targeting the BlackBerry platform. RIM's message - "developers, we still love you. Will you love us back?"
I'm a developer, so I guess they're asking me. What's my answer? Will I love RIM back?
Is love enough?
During the event, RIM put out a video called "Devs, BlackBerry is Going to Keep on Loving You". The blurb on the YouTube posting contains an interesting word - can you spot it?

This video is a thank you to all developers supporting the BlackBerry platform. Your Developer Relations, Alliance and Developer Tools teams appreciate your enthusiasm and loyalty! We're Going To Keep On Loving You. Shown at BlackBerry Jam Americas Sept 2012.


They've clearly put a ton of effort into the event, and the video is just one example. It all tells us that RIM knows that developers are important, but it also implies they're worried about a drift away from the platform. And why shouldn't they be? The organisation's steady decline over the past few years has likely got them so used to being abandoned by all and sundry that they're desperate to keep developers clinging on to their platform - whether it's currently burning or not. They need what developers they do have to stay on-board and build apps for BB10. Having a new mobile phone platform with no apps would be - well, for most companies you'd say "disaster", but RIM's already past "disaster".

(And in fairness they do have a lot of developers - 105,000 apps in App World, apparently.)

See also: RIM's BlackBerry 10: Why I still believe | RIM banking on BlackBerry Balance, HTML5, BYOD trend | BlackBerry fragmentation is the spectre that haunts RIM | RIM waves cash at developers ahead of BlackBerry 10 launch

Follow the money
Logically, seeing as BB10 isn't actually a thing that exists in the market and no one can buy them, its market presence must be zero. With no one owning the phones, you can't exactly tap them up and ask them to buy your new app.
With no credit-card equipped end-users, the only money available within the BB10 system has to be speculative spending. Thus, as a developer, the only reason why you'd spend any money developing BB10 apps is if you believe - hand on heart - that there will be enough devices out there to deliver a return on your investment.
And software isn't funded using love and kisses. Let's talk actual money...
If you're doing it properly as a full-time business, you need a minimum of $400k a year to build a baseline software company. That's enough for you and another principal in the business to make enough money, have enough of a buffer to keep stress at bay, to pay for some marketing, and toys. At a dollar a pop, you need to shift 400,000 units - oh, and RIM takes 30% of what you make, so you'll actually need to shift 571,429 units.
That's fine, but there are a grand total of "0" BB10 customers out there at the moment. Selling 571,429 units to zero customers would challenge even the most skilled salesperson.
But, there are 80 million "normal" pre-BB10 subscribers. Selling 571,429 units into a market of 80 million customers is much easier. That's less than 1% of the market.
So is this then what the loyalty message is about? "Darling, I still love you - will you stay with me whilst I try and migrate these 80 million customers over to my new platform? Say you will, darling!"
It's a difficult sell. I'll need to think about it. How long do you think it might take to transition 80 million customers to a new phone platform? Oh, and you might lose some of those customers to iPhone, Android, or Windows Phone.
And that's half the story...
Bleeding developers is one thing. What about on-boarding new developers?
So the pitch here is: don't spend development time and money delivering for a platform that actually has phones used by paying customers;  instead, developers should invest in an entirely unproven phone platform.
But RIM's growth in very recent times - especially that previously linked story of a surprise two million subscriber increase that pinged RIM's stock up by 6% today - is growth coming from emerging markets. Do customers in emerging markets tend to spend a lot of money on apps? Hard to say - but we do know that RIM's presence in markets where app sales metrics are well-known and well-understood is declining. RIM has traditionally done well in providing return to developers, but will that same story play in markets that are described as "emerging"?
In the end, this all comes down to where you want to spend your money. If you had $20k to spend on developing an app today, would you spend it on an unproven platform that happens to be running late, and that also doesn't actually exist yet? Or would you spend it on a platform that has actual customers, and some proven ability to deliver sales?
Regardless of how many dozens of red roses it sent me, if I had any close involvement with RIM at this point I'd be filing for divorce.
Love is blind. Profit certainly isn't.
Want to discuss? Post a comment, or contact me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Editorial standards