Banking on BlackBerry

BALAJI NARASIMHAN | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on January 15, 2012


Smartphones are nothing without apps. Which is why major players like BlackBerry are scrambling to get developers on their team.

There's this old joke about two campers who spy a grizzly coming towards them from afar. One of them immediately takes off his shoes and substitutes them for runners. “Why are you doing that? You can't outrun that bear even with running shoes,” said his friend, to which he replied, “Who cares about the grizzly? All I have to do is outrun you.”

Employ this logic in the real world, and you see a similar situation with mobile manufacturers who are busy trying to woo users, and have to keep developers on their side. Because if you can't attract developers, you won't get any great apps, and without apps, your smartphone isn't worth the pixels on its screen.

Rise of the underdog?

In this game, BlackBerry is at a slight disadvantage because it is not perceived to be a big player, and so has to strive a little harder to keep up.

Pointing this out, Anil Pai, Mobile Security Analyst, TCS, says, “Android and iPhone are the market leaders, followed by Windows. BlackBerry is in the fourth spot and may pick up in future.” Pai says that the launch of the QNX operating system for BlackBerry in a few months, coupled with the security features the manufacturer offers, will make it a viable alternative to the other three. And while TCS is currently not working on anything for BlackBerry platform from the security standpoint, he said that the company plans to do this in the near future. Getting a big software player like TCS to work on its platform is a big plus for BlackBerry.

This is because the stakes are huge. According to an IDC report released in January 2012, the world's mobile worker population will reach 1.3 billion by 2015, representing 37.2 per cent of the total workforce. Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) will see the maximum growth from around 601.7 million mobile workers in 2010 to 838.7 million in 2015, spurred primarily by India and China.

Many of them will be carrying smartphones and being the number fourth in this list, one expects BlackBerry to try that much harder to woo developers because apps hold the key to smartphone adoption.

Ironing out the creases

One of the things that might help BlackBerry could be its native functionality, said Sunil Mishra, Senior Software Engineer, Creative Commons, who has been developing apps on both Android and BlackBerry.

“Both are good, but BlackBerry has a richer user interface.” Mishra said that he would continue to develop apps for BlackBerry in spite of his knowledge of Android because, as he put it, “Android is easy to learn but difficult to debug.”

Such news will be music to RIM's ears, which will no doubt want to increase its market share in India - a tough thing to do if you are not a major player because the market for smartphones is rather limited in India as of now. In November last year, Gartner said that while Indian mobile handset sales would reach 231 million units in 2012, an increase of 8.5 per cent over 2011 sales of 213 million units, very few would be smartphones. In fact, in the first three quarters of the calendar year 2011, smartphone sales in India made up 6 per cent of total device sales, and this is expected to increase only to 8 per cent in 2012. View this statistic in a different light, and this translates to about 18.48 million smartphones being shipped in India in calendar year 2012, with BlackBerry taking a relatively smaller percentage of sales.

Another big problem with BlackBerry is the total number of apps available. According to Annie Mathew, Head of Alliances and Developer Relations, India, Research in Motion, there are about 50,000 apps on BlackBerry's App World, which is a very small number when compared to Apple, which has at least 5 lakh apps on its App Store. But BlackBerry is trying to turn around its smaller base by offering a customised service to developers, she says. Citing an example, she says that when Dhingana, which was launched on the App Store two years ago, first came to BlackBerry, they had a lot of issues, but BlackBerry 's team helped them to resolve them. “It is important for developers that they should find it easy to develop apps,” she said.

And some developers are finding this to be true. Vineeth Karunakaran, Senior Software Engineer, USD Global, who has been developing apps for BlackBerry for three years (he also develops J2ME apps for Nokia and other platforms, besides writing apps for Symbian) says that he shifted to developing for BlackBerry because of the satisfaction he gets from the platform. “We are able to do everything we want. It is better than offerings from competitors,” he said.

Language barriers

Of course, there is also another issue - programming languages. Once a developer learns a programming language, he is not always eager to jump from what he knows to what he doesn't because this involves relearning a language. Karunakaran, who is well-versed with Java, says that he can't move to iOS because he is required to program it in Objective C, a language that he is not familiar with. He also has no desire to move to Android, a platform that he says he doesn't like. “Android has a lot of bugs even with basic features like phone calls and SMS. I have an Android phone and these bugs are making it difficult for me to use the phone,” he said.

So, is the BlackBerry developer market filled with people who don't like other platforms, or can't move away for various reasons? Mathew disagrees. “Apple is not the most popular brand in India. That is why developers want to get on to BlackBerry.” Highlighting Indian players like MakeMyTrip, Naukri and Shaadi, she said, “They first made an appearance on BlackBerry and only then did they get on other platforms. For developers in India, it is BlackBerry, Android and iOS, in that order.”

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Published on January 15, 2012
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