Developers of apps have to make a decision on which smartphone platform to develop their application to maximize their impact and/or profit. Among the popular candidates are Apple’s App Store, RIM’s BlackBerry App World, Google’s Android Marketplace, and Microsoft’s Windows Marketplace. They’ve all got their advantages and disadvantages, but in the end it all comes down to profit. N4BB looks at the ease of development, competition, subscriber base, user habits, demographics, and more to give you 5 rational and compelling reasons why developing for BlackBerry is a good idea.
1. Less competition
These days, every company and their dog has an app that you can download. This is especially true on iOS and Android smartphones. With about 650,000 available on the iPhone, and almost 500,000 available on Android smartphones, any small developer is looking at some serious competition. With the Windows marketplace and BlackBerry App World, you’re looking at over 100,000 apps apiece.
But that’s not the whole story. The subscriber base of each platform is also very important. The larger your market, the better you tend to do. If we consider the ratio of subscribers to apps, the most attractive platform should have the largest number. While this is no scientifically rigorous analysis, we shall use the number of mobile shipments in 2011 instead of subscribers (which should favour android and Apple as RIM was doing better before then) Windows phone is in last place with a ratio of around 70 (7 mil/100k), Apple is in second with a ratio around 144 (94 mil/650k), Android is in a close third, with about 480 (240 mil/500k) and BlackBerry is out in front with 485 (51 mil/105k). Using recent mobile shipments also helps provide a better view of how the market will be like instead of what they were.
Keep in mind, that the figures are by no means exact and that BlackBerry App World is divided into PlayBook 2.0/BlackBerry 10 based apps and the older BlackBerry OS-based apps. More precisely, if we consider only the current BlackBerry smartphone apps at about 85,000, then the score is more like 600.
This means, that there is generally less apps available per subscriber than any other platform, and there’s a higher likelihood of being the only game in town! Less competition means developers can charge more for their app as well.
The new BlackBerry 10 platform has not launched yet so the competitive prospects depend on the sales of the first BlackBerry 10 phone, and the apps available at launch, which are both unknown. We can be sure that there won’t be 500,000 apps at launch, and the sales might be any where from half a million to 5 million devices. Regardless, there will be room for many developers to succeed on the new platform.
2. Developer Tools
The tools developers use to build their apps are also very important. If you’ve got the right development tools, it can save tons of time in the app-making process as well as allow developers to make high-quality apps that customers want to buy and use. Choice; it’s a beautiful thing. For the BlackBerry 10 and PlayBook platforms, you can choose from C/C++, AIR, HTML5, Java, or Qt programming languages and scripting. For web developers, HTML5 apps can be made using RIM’s Webworks and tested on the tinyHippos Ripple emulator. HTML5 tools are perfect for creating rich and consistent applications across all platforms, which includes BlackBerry. The new BBUI.js tools enable developers to deliver the modern BlackBerry experience with ease using HTML5.
The C/C++ environment is key for many games, and RIM has been no slouch in supporting as many game engines are possible. This allows the PlayBook to quickly amass a sizeable selection of the top mobile games available today. For Flash developers, development is also possible in Actionscript using the Adobe AIR SDK. Existing Flash games can also be easily brought to BlackBerry quite easily as well. Many android developers can also port their Java applications to BlackBerry using a conversion tool developed by RIM themselves, removing much of the work while accessing a whole new market of potential customers.
Native development on BlackBerry has also never been easier. The quality of the new Cascades UI tools by TAT is top-notch which allows even new developers to create stunning applications with ease. The powerful foundation of C++ with the simplicity of creating user interfaces with Qt is a great combination. Cascades for BlackBerry 10 features slick transitions, fluid animations, and sharp layout objects that developers can leverage without any extra work.
RIM is developing tools like the App Generator, allowing a very quick way to make an app, saving time and money for many developers.
The new open-source initiatives and wealth of sample applications from RIM are promising and show that RIM is serious about appealing to developers. As a new BlackBerry developer, I’ve tested the BlackBerry WebWorks tools, Cascades tools, the Ripple emulator, sample apps, Android conversion tools, and AIR runtimes provided by RIM and I stand impressed.
Not all smartphone users are created the same. Some buy many apps, others have never use any at all. In other words, the average BlackBerry user will differ from the average iPhone or Android user. There is evidence that BlackBerry users generally lie in the highest income bracket, suggesting they may be more likely to spend more money on apps than users of other smartphones. Obviously developers want smartphone users to buy as many apps as possible so it this fact is important.
This suggests that a higher percentage of BlackBerry users have credit cards tied to their App World accounts. It’s also possible that there is a greater market for business, professional and specialized applications with BlackBerry due to the large corporate and business association to BlackBerry. Apps that rely on a platform with top-notch security should also look no further. With FIPS certification of BlackBerry 7 smartphones, it’s really a no-brainer.
4. Social support from RIM
Research in Motion has stepped up their game when it comes to appealing to developers. As far as social support goes, RIM delivers quality and timely support through the BlackBerry developer forums and the twitter account @BlackBerryDev. The forums are well organized and populated with many experienced developers to help with any issues. The @BlackBerryDev twitter account has more than 41,000 followers and is backed by a dedicated team that’s glad to help. RIM also has BlackBerry developer evangelists, led by RIM’s VP of Developer Relations and App Ecosystems Alec Saunders, to answer any questions developer have about developing their app for the BlackBerry ecosystem.
To showcase and help developers as much as possible, RIM’s developer evangelist team is going global after their initial BlackBerry Jam conference in Orlando, Florida. BlackBerry Jam events are being scheduled in many cities all over the world (I’m going to the one in New York City!), handing out developer prototype smartphones so developers can test and debug their apps on. With tutorials, round table sessions, and seminars, RIM makes it clear they want to help developers as much as possible.
5. Financial Support
You gotta make money, right? Done. RIM’s offering $10,000 in guaranteed app income for certified BlackBerry 10 apps. That’s right. If your app passes some certification (yet to be completely disclosed), and your app hasn’t made $10,000 of income yet, RIM pays you the difference to get you to that money. Not bad eh? The details aren’t set in stone yet, but the aim is clear. RIM wants to take care of its developers.
Despite BlackBerry already being a very profitable platform for a relatively large percentage of developers. RIM seems to acknowledge the seemingly obvious fact that developers are investing their sweat and blood into their apps and supporting them is of mutual benefit.
Of course, there are many reasons why other platforms are attractive as well. But for the small developer, the numbers are stacked against you. When Apple decides to do more of the development themselves as with iOS6 (with iCloud photo sharing and Instaphoto), third party developers find it difficult to compete with native services. These five reasons outline why BlackBerry is not to be overlooked as a great app development platform. The tools are there (and more coming). The opportunities to grab untouched parts of the app market are there. The social support is there. The financial support is there. With all these reasons, I would not be surprised if the new BlackBerry platform becomes a hot bed for app success.