2011 was something of an ‘annus horribilis’ for BlackBerry-maker, RIM. After several years of rapid growth, the company announced its first drop in revenue, and subsequently had to reduce the size of its workforce by more than a tenth.
In the same year, RIM continued to lose market share in both consumer and business sectors, and its new tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook, was met with poor demand. The situation wasn’t made any easier when RIM suffered one of its worst ever service outages in October 2011.
As a result of this series of events, 2012 is shaping up to be a make or break year for RIM. If its new operating system, BlackBerry 10, isn’t a success, RIM could be in big trouble, but if it does manage to pull it out of the bag, BlackBerry 10 could be a real game-changer for the company.
Despite going through something of a rough patch recently, RIM is still a leading mobile handset manufacturer, and there are plenty of reasons for developers to get excited about the launch of its new BlackBerry 10 OS.
Firstly, RIM’s app store, BlackBerry App World, is highly profitable. Although downloads from the Google Play app store (formerly known as Android Market), dwarf those from BlackBerry App World at a ratio of approximately 5:1 (10bn downloads from Google Play vs. 2bn from BlackBerry App World), BlackBerry App World is still much more profitable. In fact, it generates 40 per cent more revenue for developers than Google Play, putting it just behind Apple, as the world’s second most profitable app platform.
What’s more, BlackBerry App World generates 43 per cent more daily downloads per app than the Apple App Store, and has more paid downloads than Google Play. As a result of this, around 13 per cent of BlackBerry developers have made over $100,000 from their involvement with BlackBerry App World.
Advanced web apps
The other good news is that, from the off, BlackBerry 10 will support HTML5 websites and apps, giving developers the opportunity to use existing skillsets to develop apps for the BlackBerry platform. BlackBerry 10’s web browser is expected to be one of the most HTML5-compatible implementations available, above Google’s Chrome for Android. If this is the case, developers may find that they can create more advanced web apps for BlackBerry than Android.
There’s more good news in the fact that BlackBerry’s new OS is based on QNX, a real-time, mission-critical computing platform that RIM acquired in 2010. To date, QNX has been used mostly in mission-critical computing scenarios in the medical, defence and manufacturing markets. Its uses range from patient monitoring units to air traffic control systems and monitoring & control systems for nuclear reactors. Since people’s lives depend on many of these systems, it’s clear that QNX is incredibly powerful, reliable and secure. For BlackBerry’s business customers, who require highly reliable and secure mobile devices, the fact that BlackBerry 10 is based on QNX can only be good news.
In addition to this, QNX is also used for in-car infotainment systems. Consequently, once BlackBerry 10 has launched, the updated OS may be made available to car manufacturers. This means that BlackBerry apps could potentially run on in-car systems, and in future, BlackBerry handsets and tablets could potentially synch with in-car systems. This presents developers with an opportunity to expand beyond making apps for mobile devices and into new platforms, such as connected cars and TVs, amongst other things.
Another acquisition made by RIM in 2010 was The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), the Swedish User Interface (UI) design company. TAT has since designed and developed the user interface for the BlackBerry 10 OS, using its highly-regarded Cascades User Interface technology, as well as making the Cascades UI features available to the native software development kit (SDK) for BlackBerry 10 apps. For developers, this means that they will be able to create apps with amazing UI controls and animations, straight out-of-the-box.
Finally, in recent months, BlackBerry has experienced fast growth in Asia – a market where sales of smartphones have been slow to get off the ground, but are now starting to grow fast. BlackBerry is gaining market share by targeting consumers with low-cost handsets and by positioning its devices as gadgets for aspiring young professionals and students.
This development offers app developers, who may have focused on the EMEA and US markets to date, a very exciting opportunity to reach a huge new audience. India for example is the second largest wireless market after China, with 900m mobile subscribers, yet just one in 20 handsets sold is a smartphone. With smartphones now growing in popularity, sales are expected to rise rapidly in the near future.
So, whilst RIM might not have the ‘cool’ factor like Apple at the moment, or the user base of Android, it still remains a major player in the mobile market. With the launch of BlackBerry 10, RIM is making it clear that it intends to hold onto its market share with both hands, whilst becoming a serious platform for app developers too. RIM’s decision to give away thousands of BlackBerry 10 devices to developers at its annual BlackBerry World event is testament to that. Whether or not RIM’s hard work on BlackBerry 10 will pay off, time will tell. But from what we’ve heard about the new OS so far, we’re really excited to get our hands on it, and confident that it will deliver the success story that RIM needs to maintain and build on its past successes in the industry.
Nick Barnett is CEO of Mippin