Last Thursday, as the sun set on the heart of silicon valley in downtown San Jose, BlackBerry Jam Americas quietly drew to a close. With the launch of the BlackBerry 10 platform set for early 2013, this was unmistakably one of Research in Motion’s (RIM) most important developer conferences in history.
For four days, the San Jose Convention Centre was alive with developers, press and RIM employees all focusing on BlackBerry 10. The venue was futuristic, stylish, and integrated, all quintessential traits of what the new BlackBerry is all about. From the custom BlackBerry Porsche Carrera to the open-room hands-on development labs, the focus was loud and clear. RIM came here to demonstrate the power of the new BlackBerry 10 platform.
The keynote was kicked off by RIM’s CEO, Thorsten Heins, who aimed to convince developers to build apps for BlackBerry 10. The focus was centred around the profitability of third-party developers and the power of the platform. Instead of talking about how developers can contribute to BlackBerry, it was more about how BlackBerry could contribute to developers. This has been a theme of RIM’s BlackBerry Jam events over the past year.
One thing is clear: RIM has changed over the past year. It is now very open to interviews, handing out newer (and faster) development devices, actively supporting and listening to developers, providing strong incentives to build apps, admitting to past blunders, and even pulling off a not-as-disastrous-as-expected quarter.
The keynote brought along many surprises for developers, including BBM, native applications, a new “Dev Alpha B” prototype device, big-name app announcements, new developers tools, and much more.
To anyone attending the event, it was clear that RIM did not spare much expense. It is a calculated leap of faith for the company, which now possesses an unwavering idea of who its customers are and what they stand for. The core of this philosophy is a belief that some people want an alternative to the iPhone and Android smartphones. It is an acknowledgement that despite the strength and dominance of competing platforms, there is a place for BlackBerry.
As an example, RIM believes that the “in-and-out” experience of smartphone user interfaces these days is inefficient. This spawned a re-imagination of the user interface, with “flow” and “peek” gestures of the new operating system, a paradigm shift in the user experience of smartphones.
Overall, BlackBerry Jam Americas was well executed and organized by RIM. The meals were great, the sessions were insightful, the social events were fun, and the effort to cater to developers was evident. In spite of the success, the scale of the event was disproportionately larger than the attendance, as the venue was nowhere near capacity. The long keynote by Thorsten, the grandeur of the San Jose Convention Centre, the significant media presence there, and the new updates to the Dev Alpha device led me to believe that this wasn’t just an event for developers, but for the media as well.
The event seemed to promote the BlackBerry 10 operating system and RIM’s developer strategy to the public as well as to developers. For example, music video of RIM’s Alec Saunders, VP of Developer Relations, became a hit on YouTube (debatable whether its the good or the bad kind).
It is clear that RIM has a mountain to climb, and much is talked about whether they are able to climb it or not. While it is less discussed, many make the mistake as to which mountain they are climbing. It is not that of Apple or Google. By holding true to their philosophy, sticking to their strengths, and choosing to take the road less travelled, RIM is one of the few choosing to innovate in a ‘post-Steve Jobs’ world.
If the story of RIM were a trilogy, we would be reading the second-last chapter of the first book. Come Q1 2013, the last chapter will be written and the entire direction of the RIM’s story is yet to be decided.