August 12th, 2009

Who’s building BlackBerry apps in the Silicon Forest?


Who’s building BlackBerry apps in the Silicon Forest?

For all my crowing about Portland being the de facto hub of mobile development, I seem to cover primarily iPhone apps and maybe an Android app every once in a while. Inevitably, when those posts go live, a few people always ask, “Is there a BlackBerry version?”

And that leads me to wonder, is there? Are people in the Silicon Forest building BlackBerry apps?

I’m not a Blackberry user, but I know quite a few people who are. And—basically in any town besides Portland—I run into a lot more BlackBerry users than iPhone or Android users.

That said, I don’t know that I’m following the BlackBerry development space as closely as I could be.

I’ve written about some FreeRange’s mobile work and GadgetTrak’s mobile development. And I know that CloudFour is doing mobile consultation for everything but iPhone. But that’s about it.

Is there a ton of BlackBerry development going on in town? Are there a bunch of developers flying below the radar because there’s no single app store or marketplace? Or are the apps being built missing the attention they deserve because they’re not on a platform that’s currently enjoying media darling status?

I don’t know. But I’d love to hear more.

It would be great toround up some of the best and brightest BlackBerry apps that are products of the Silicon Forest. It seems that if we’re going to become the actual hub for mobile development, a more well rounded community—and better coverage of what the entire community is doing—would help.

So if you’ve got some BlackBerry stuff going—or you’re an iPhone or Android developer considering porting your app to BlackBerry—please let me know by dropping me an email at siliconflorist at gmail dot com. Or by filling out the tips form.

I’m looking forward to hearing about all the cool BlackBerry development going on around here.

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Background that may help (or may not)

9 Responses to “Who’s building BlackBerry apps in the Silicon Forest?”

  1. Katherine Gray says:

    I’m curious, too! Just yesterday I was wondering if eventually mobile dev shops will have to specialize in all platforms. Companies who outsource that development may want to deal with one shop over multiple ones for logistics and to ensure consistency of the user experience across platforms (although it could also be argued you may sacrifice UX if the shop is strong on one and weaker on others).

    Any iPhone devs also doing Blackberry (or other) apps or visa versa?

  2. Mark Conway says:

    Rick,
    Talk to Elia Freedman of Infinity Softworks. He’s been doing cross-platform mobile development for a bunch of years. They have Blackberry, Palm, Windows Mobile and iPhone versions of their products.

  3. Jmartens says:

    I am really glad to see you bring this topic up, Rick. Sometimes its easy for us Blackberry users to feel like we are in the minority, even when the numbers say we are the majority.

    I’ll look forward to hearing what you learn about BB development in Portland. Unfortunately I am not confidant that much is being done in this space. Its not a Portland thing, its an industry wide problem. Companies and independent developers alike tend to ignore the Blackberry platform for the most sexy iPhone or Android market. However, when doing so I believe they are ignoring a few important facts:

    - The #1 selling smartphone in Q1 and Q2 of this year was the Blackberry Curve…NOT the iPhone. Yes, the Curve is on more carriers but the bottom line is that there are more eyes on it than the iPhone.

    - 4 of the top 6 smartphones sold in 09Q2 (ranked by units) were Blackberry’s.

    -Blackberry app’s are developed in Java, an open and non-proprietary language with an established developer base.

    -RIM does not police apps for use on their devices or restrict the gateway in which they are downloaded.

    I am sure there are more, those are just the ones that quickly come to mind. Why developers ignore these facts I’ll never know. Thanks again for your attention to this issue.

  4. John McHammond says:

    “I am sure there are more, those are just the ones that quickly come to mind. Why developers ignore these facts I’ll never know.”

    Jmartens – the single biggest reason developers ignore BlackBerry is because BlackBerry ignores developers, as evidence by:

    1. An antiquated O/S, that isn’t even close to competitive with Android, iPhone, and others, in terms of features, performance, capability. The BlackBerry OS hasn’t seen significant change in over 5 years.

    2. Buggy, unstable, development software. Ask anyone who has had the bollocks to actually build a blackberry application, and they will vent on you like an upset girlfriend. Just keeping a blackberry development environment RUNNING takes a lot of luck, blood, sweat and tears.

    3. A SDK that is severely lacking. Compare it to the Android and iPhone SDK, and its like VHS vs Blueray. No thanks!

    IMHO, I think the development community is waiting patiently for RIM to pick up their game, and address the above before venturing down this path. RIM knows this is one of the very few areas they really have dropped the ball. You can be sure they are working very hard to solve this problem.

    I am a massive RIM fan, have owned a device since 2000, and think they have the luxury of time on their hands to make this right – provided they get on their horse and solve this inside the next 12 months.

    -JM

  5. RobertWagner says:

    As an owner of both a BlackBerry Bold and an iPhone I figured I’d weigh in just a little bit. It’s difficult to get excited about BlackBerry apps simply because it takes way too long to find any. I’m a Mac user and and as such the ability to shop for apps for the BlackBerry online is kind of a pain in the butt already, so I usually end up doing it through the phone itself. Therein lies the problem. People can complain about Apple’s App Store all they want but without a central “hub” of sorts (other than the Internet itself) in which to shop for apps, or see what’s available, you end up playing this “gee I wonder if there’s an app for….X” game. It works, but it’s extremely hard to get excited about.

    That said, at least one of my favorite iPhone apps, BeeJive, was a BlackBerry app first – for about $20 MORE for the BlackBerry version that is about 1/2 as cool and 1/2 as functional as its iPhone counterpart. I’m guessing this is the price for the “corporate BlackBerry user” vs. the more “casual users” of iPhone, but still. I had bought it anyway but it took my a good half hour to find what I wanted (was looking for a chat app for the Bold), buy it, install it, get it where I could find that damn thing on my phone, and go…

    I love the Bold. I don’t love it as much as the iPhone but it does some nice things, a few of them much better than the iPhone does. That said, I’d love to have more apps on it as well but I’d be surprised if there were really too many development houses, even around here, working on software for the thing. Sure, there might be a lot more BlackBerry’s out there in the wild, but I think far fewer people are actively shopping for software for them.

  6. Jmartens says:

    @John

    Good points, thanks for sharing a different perspective. With the minimal amount of development knowledge I have, I don’t disagree. I would however think that the sheer number of years that people have been developing for Blackberry would make up for little support from RIM and a lacking SDK. Despite all you mention, it wasn’t enough to hold back apps like Twitterberry, which was developed by a small no name shop.

    @Robert

    Though I respect your points and opinion, they have very little to do with why people don’t develop for the Blackberry more often.

    You also talk about the iPhone app store….you do realize that there is an official Blackberry app store with thousands of apps, right? Not to mention a store from Crackberry with thousands more.

  7. RobertWagner says:

    Yup, well aware of the official Blackberry app store and found it about as easy to use as that espresso machine I opened once and then packed away to collect dust. As I said, I’m a Mac user, some 7 times over at this point, and I don’t own a PC and have no need to run bootcamp or any other virtualization software – except for the Blackberry desktop software (so I don’t even bother). Sure, I could wait until September for Mac software that should have been out ages ago but I’ve had my Bold since late last year. From my perspective the Blackberry app store just doesn’t hold a candle to what Apple offers.

    Now, if I’m a software developer and I’m looking at the mobile playing field the first thing I’m thinking is “What is the easiest way to get my software into the hands of the people with mobile phones?” – then I examine the distribution methods and I realize that Apple has it 95% right and everyone else has a bit of catching up to do. It’s far from perfect and it’s harder than hell to get noticed once you’re in there (IF you get in at all) but at least the distribution method itself is sound, easy to use, and gets more press than The Beatles in their heyday.

    That aside, several of the apps that I did manage to download after getting my Bold didn’t work with my version of the OS or performed in one funky manner or the other while they would work fine on a friends Curve. Bummer. Feels suspiciously like Windows XP/Vista/Me/98SE to me all the way around and I can imagine that’s probably a nice big fat headache for developers as well, at least those that choose to bother debugging these sorts of things.

    I love my Bold, don’t get me wrong, but the love I have for the thing begins and ends almost entirely with the software that was built into it in the first place (an emphasis on “almost”). RIM hasn’t caught up to the app store user experience offered elsewhere and that has to impact developers in a negative way. If it’s difficult to buy then people simply won’t spend the money. Hell, my wife figured out how to buy apps through the iPhone app store in 2 minutes flat (and the next iTunes bill was somewhere around the $150 mark as a result) – when handed a BlackBerry she throws it down in a fit of rage after about 10 minutes.

  8. John McHammond says:

    @Jmartens

    Here is a great read from a developers perspective:

    http://www.inteism.com/2009/04/android-development-vs-blackberry-development/

    - Enjoy!

  9. Max says:

    @John – thanks for referring to my article (great read :) ), seen it in referral stats just today :)


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