Thursday, May 15, 2008

WES 2008, Final Day

Today wrapped up WES 2008, the yearly BlackBerry conference. A half-day's worth of sessions, and I sat in on some good ones, like yesterday the best one was run by RIM's Mike Kirkup and focused on some best practices in BlackBerry application development.

Overall a really great show, and BlackBerry is a great platform and represents significant opportunity moving forward, not just for RIM, but for solution providers and application developers. There seemed to be extra emphasis on ISVs this week - an expanded Solutions Showcase, many sessions geared towards commercial software application development, the addition of Documents To Go to the BlackBerry platform, and the announcement of the new BlackBerry venture capital fund.

I've been a mobile application developer since 1996 and along with my company Bachmann Sofware we've watched many mobile platforms rise, some failing immediately, some thriving for a while then failing, and some continuing to gain strength and momentum over the years. BlackBerry at present falls into this latter category. There is an aura of excitement about RIM, its BlackBerry devices, the platform, and the overall ecosystem which I have not seen since the early heady days of Palm in the late 90's. We as application developers dream about opportunities like the one BlackBerry presents, so I return from WES today excited about continuing to work with this growing platform.

I also leave the show with many ideas for new blog this space for more thoughts on the Mobile Movement!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

WES Show coverage continued

Today I continue my report from the BlackBerry WES show in Orlando.

After Monday being devoted to RIM Alliance member business, the past two days saw the show open up to a more general audience. There are a lot of attendees, I'm not sure of the number but it sure feels like more than last year's show.

The sessions I've attended have been well presented and contained good information. In my company I am a software developer, a business owner, business/partner development, and I even do some marketing, so I try to attend sessions covering a pretty wide range of topics. I learned about some areas of the BlackBerry solution that I had not known very much about, including BES and how "server push" works, some new areas of LBS/GPS functionality, and some presentations on clever products and solutions from different vendors.

The best session today was chaired by Mike Kirkup at RIM and included a panel of RIM's platform development group managers. To their credit, they stood up there and listened to a litany of problems, gripes and complaints from a fairly large group of developers who were struggling with development issues.

I'll give you an example of a big problem BlackBerry developers face: there are floating out there BlackBerry devices in use that have a very wide range of operating system versions on them. The new Bold runs OS 4.6, and 4.5 is about to hit the market as an upgrade to existing devices. Most 8800's, Curves and Pearls today ship with 4.2 or 4.3, depending on what the wireless carrier supports. An 8700 or 7130, which were the hot devices only a year or so ago, run 4.1 but are possibly running 4.2, 4.3 or even 4.5 (shortly). Older devices such as the 7290 are most likely running 4.0, but could be running a 3.x OS.

Why is this a problem?

Well, the way the development tools are set up, you have to specifically decide which target devices and OS versions will need to run your app, since this dictates the features your app can access. Yes its possible to write an application that runs on all devices new and old, but you would be sacrificing the ability to access any of the newer features that have been introduced along the way. If you decide you want to use a feature in your app that is only available in OS 4.3 or later (video streaming, for example) then your app will *only* run on devices which run OS 4.3 or later. This is all fine if you are a corporate developer writing an in-house app where you know exactly the devices used by your organization. But if you are a commercial application developer creating a business or consumer app, you have to worry about the range of devices and users that may attempt to download and install your app.

The folks at RIM have stated that roughly 75% of the market is running 4.2 or better. So putting it bluntly, if you use features in your app which require 4.2 or better, 25% of the BlackBerry users out there will not be able to use your app. In fact, if they try to install your app on their device, they will get strange and confusing error messages, or a crash, or both. Not good. Essentially, this forces many BlackBerry developers into a situation where they need to build and post multiple versions of their applications, each of which supports a different OS version. This is confusing to customers, a hassle for developers, and bad for RIM.

I'm the first to agree that its unreasonable to be expect to be able to create an app that magically runs on all OS versions....RIM could do it, but it would be a tremendous effort and a drag on their efforts to move the platform forward. But there needs to be a happy compromise....developers need to be able to produce an application with confidence that it will run on a reasonably large percentage of devices out there. Further, they need to be able to include features in their apps that take advantage of the newer devices, but which will still run on older devices. I know it sounds simple, but I realize its a burden on RIM. The panel at the session I attended recognized the problem, but it does not appear there is a near-term solution in sight. Lets hope they go home to Waterloo and talk about the problem some awfully large percentage of the developers in the audience indicated this issue is a problem for them.

Thats all for now - one more day at WES tomorrow, then back to the real world. Again, if you are at WES, give me a shout at

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

BlackBerry WES Show - Day One

Yesterday (Monday) was the first day of the WES conference here in Orlando. Actually to be accurate it was a "pre-show" day devoted to BlackBerry Alliance Partners, a RIM sponsored grouping of application developers, system integrator and other platform players, of which my company Bachmann Software is a member.

Overall it a very long but quite excellent first day of the show for me. The day kicked off with a keynote at which RIM formally announced the new "Bold" smartphone. Information and photos on the Bold had been leaked out as a "BlackBerry 9000", but the product is formally released by RIM as "Bold". And a "bold" stroke it is. Essentially it takes its place as the "Ferrari" of BlackBerry devices, and it has it all.....wi-fi, gps, hi-res screen, full keyboard, media, 1GB of internal storage, you name it. All this comes with a slight compromise in that it is a bit thicker and bigger than the 8800 model, but of course if you want a tiny phone you really want a Pearl anyway. I played with a Bold at the show, and it was indeed a nice device - not necessarily a revolutionary new product, but certainly a very nice evolutionary device that takes its place at the upper end of RIM's product line.

The Bold comes preloaded with Dataviz' Documents To Go, giving BlackBerry users real native document viewing and editing on device for the very first time. Documents To Go is actually not tied to the Bold only, it is part of the general BlackBerry OS 4.5/4.6 version, which will be the base OS on other new models, as well as an upgradeable OS version for current 8800/Pearl/Curve owners. From my perspective, having Documents To Go as an embedded, integral part of the BlackBerry platform fills what I have called a gaping hole in the BlackBerry solution, arguably the last major such hole that exists. Perhaps only a percentage of BlackBerry owners will create or edit documents on their device, but this functionality is pretty standard on virtually all other competing mobile devices (except iPhone, notably). For many people, being able to carry around, view and edit documents, without toting their laptop around, is a major feature. Congratulations to Dataviz on not only porting their solution to BlackBerry, but also for acheiving bundling status on the device! (Now of course we have to finish adapting the BlackBerry version of our PrintBoy software to let you print your documents wirelessly from Documents to Go.....yes, its coming!)

Aside from that, most of the rest of the day was consumed with presentations from RIM on the Alliance Program, re-connecting with some old friends, meeting new prospective partners, clients and customers, and the like. This years Solutions Showcase is bigger than ever, and I got to walk around and chat with some of the vendors at the end of the day. As usual, RIM has put on a great show, and I'm looking forward to the next few days.

Stay tuned, I'll post more tomorrow!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Heading down to WES !!

This weekend I make what will be my 3rd annual trek down to Orlando where Research In Motion will be staging its "WES 2008" conference all next week.

The WES show is all about the BlackBerry world, and it is a gathering of customers, VARs, software developers, content providers and other folks who are involved in purchasing, selling, developing for or otherwise supporting the BlackBerry solution. Last year's WES 2007 show was bigger and better than the 2006 version, and based on the pre-show buzz I am hopeful/expecting that WES 2008 will be bigger and better yet. The possibility of new product unveilings (BlackBerry 9000 sightings are now becoming common around the internet) from RIM as well as its growing cloud of partners and 3rd party application and solution developers only adds to the excitement.

Why do I go? I go to be part of the event, to connect with colleagues and friends old and new, to open myself up to new business opportunities, new customers, and new ideas. I go to meet in person the folks at RIM that we normally only touch via email and phone. Its one of those things that is becoming rarer than ever these days.....a real, live, technology-focused tradeshow that isn't so big that it loses its focus, yet is big enough to get excited about attending. The WES experience hearkens back to the early Palm tradeshows (called "PalmSource"), which made you feel like you were part of something special that is growing and has a chance of changing the world. My company Bachmann Software used to exhibit at PalmSource, and it was a great experience for us. I've never been to Apple's show, but from what I've read it seems like it has some of the same mojo. This year we came close to securing exhibit space at WES, but backed out at the last minute - next year for sure!

While at WES next week I plan to file blog posts each day, recounting my impressions and what I've seen. If you'll be at WES, please do look me up - send me an email at If not, you are of course welcome to check back here for my daily reports.

On to Orlando!