Developers: RIM

Mobile software developers say BlackBerry’s “decades-old” developer tools badly need updating. But they aren’t convinced that Research in Motion Ltd.’s new QNX stack will arrive in time.

“I think one of the main problems they’re having is that it’s taking them too long to get their new platform out,” says Michael Russo, CTO of Polar Mobile, a Canadian company that develops mobile applications.  

“But one of the key reasons they’re doing this massive overhaul is because the developer tools and the developer platform on the legacy side is very, very difficult to work with. Developing on the BlackBerry platform—the traditional Java BlackBerry smartphone stack—is a very cumbersome and time-consuming process.

“The languages and the framework, really, that they provide—it was designed a long time ago and it feels really, really old.”

Part of the trouble for software developers is that BlackBerry’s legacy framework demands lots of low-level programming for widely diverse pieces of hardware. This leads some developers to forego it altogether  in favour of the more easily tamed iOS and Android platforms.

“They don’t give you a lot of foundation to build on. So, you have to end up building all of that on your own, which really is frustrating to most developers. Most developers won’t get past that.  Like, you have to write a 1,000-line network request class in order to make a simple HTTP call over the network. Or the GUI stuff: anything you want to do with the UI you have to write from scratch.”

BlackBerry does, however, still retain an advantage over other smart phones in one key area: security.

“From our perspective, when you compare the two operating systems, BlackBerry is definitely the more locked-down, the more secure operating system,” says Sahba Kazerooni, director of professional services at Security Compass, a Toronto company that develops and tests security applications for various mobile platforms.

“I think if anything, BlackBerry has built some controls that allow you to, by default, have a more secure application.”

But with RIM’s competitors plugging their own security holes, will RIM lose ground?

“You know, we’re getting to a point where there are so many solutions out there now that augment the Android and iOS platforms that I would say we’re getting close,” he says.

Tony Olvet, group vice-president of research at IDC Canada, says the “bring-your-own-device scenario” could be working against RIM. While BlackBerry remains the mobile operating system of choice for enterprises, they are now faced with employees, many of them senior executives, demanding that their own devices be integrated into the workplace.

IDC Canada reports that the two top reasons companies give for supporting employee-owned devices are “influence from high-level executives” and “employees are using them anyhow – difficult to stop.”

“They’ve just been overwhelmed by employees bringing devices into the environment and saying either, ‘I’m going to use this whether there’s a policy or not’ or ‘I’m going to request support from IT for this,” Olvet says.

Russo says RIM’s much-anticipated QNX platform could breathe new life into the beleaguered company by giving developers something far easier to work with. But he worries it won’t arrive in time.

“If you look at their new QNX stack—that has state-of-the-art developer tools. Everything is being designed very, very well. That platform will easily last another decade, or more. It’s very much future-proof. The problem is, it’s taking a long time to get the QNX stuff out the door.”

“From my perspective, I think their strategy is sound. The only issue is: is it too late?“

Much depends on what happens to RIM in the new year, he adds.“Is someone going to buy them and shut them down, or chop them into pieces? I don’t know the answers to those questions.

“What I do know is that if they can get through the next year and launch, before next year ends, a solid smartphone and tablet product based off of BlackBerry 10, and they don’t bleed too, too much more market share, I think they can be okay.  If they can do all of those things.”

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