Why bother with BB10 development?

Yup, call me stubborn. What can I say besides that I really like the underdog, the odd, the beaten up and failed. My last post was about a project that I did in Flash and now a new post about a BlackBerry 10 app. Those are two technologies that I have very good experience and that I have a lot of fun using so on my free time I can’t help my self. What do I gain from it? What motivates me?

There’s something special about the underdogs: their despair to succeed. Much like the old saying about “Never fight a cornered animal for it will give a hell of a fight for it’s life”. A company that is in trouble will try their best to succeed – or at least they should. And what tech companies do best? They innovate! They put their best efforts into bringing great technologies hoping that it will win the market’s heart and save them. I find this situation greatly interesting so I watch closely their fight for life.

BlackBerry was – well, still is – cornered so they tried their best and as a result we have: BB10 OS and Blend on the software side and the Passport representing the hardware. Both extremely innovative products on their own merits but unfortunately they didn’t save the company. When innovation doesn’t work, companies put a fresh coat of paint on their best selling product and try to sell the hell out of it – the Classic – or they copy their competitors – the Priv with Android. Nowadays I don’t watch BlackBerry anymore… but let’s move on.

I do learn a lot about the problems at hand, like using the OneNote REST API, how to make multi-threaded programs, memory management, development of User Interface and Experience, localization, so on and so forth. These are actually the concepts that are the hardest to learn and master but the ones that I can pretty much take with me and use wherever needed. Just the implementation details will be different.

There’s a lot of value in mastering a programming language, framework or another tool. Many times I had to help a fellow senior developer on my team to deal with JavaScript craziness. Oh so many bugs on which the fix was some insane language detail that they didn’t know. I coined a phrase that I used multiple times on my code reviews: “JavaScript is a bitch”. So definitely yes, my expertise with Flash and Cascades – BlackBerry’s own native framework for app development based on Qt – won’t get me that broad advantage on the market place but there are still COBOL experts being hired right?

Another thing that I got used to was people frequently asking me, with an incredulous face, “Why BlackBerry?!”. There’s a strong reason and it’s quite reasonable. BlackBerry World has a little bit more than 370K apps available for download. iTunes App Store has more than 1.500K! That’s 4x times more apps, 4x more competitors. Barely any room for indie devs. There’s also lack of official support from popular services like Uber and Telegram. On BlackBerry World there’s only one very good paid app for each, a couple of odd balls.

These points show two clear things: as a costumer it sucks to have a BB10 phone because you’ll miss a lot of apps, a problem that for many experts was the crux of BlackBerry’s demise. As an independent developer it’s a gold mine! It’s all about competition and marketing power. With the same amount of effort I can have a very good compelling Sudoku game or Telegram app on BlackBerry 10 without much competition from other players. How can one indie dev compete with hundreds of other apps available on Apple’s AppStore, of which the best ones are the official ones or created by App Factories with dozens of dedicated professionals? My indie app would univocally end up in the middle of the “noise”, the sea of dead apps full of clones and ad-ware. And no matter how much I polish and improve my app it wouldn’t leave this dreadful app store deadzone. To leave it, the app must be heavily marketed! On forums, podcasts, tech blogs, forums, Twitter, Facebook and any other channel you can think of. But remember, your competitors can afford Super Bowl ads and hire Hollywood movie stars.

What’s for grabs? BlackBerry 10 has sold an estimated 15 million units world wide and shrinking. Apple has a whole f****** lot of millions and growing. The effort so sell 100K on BB10 is quite low and actually reasonable considering that if you have a unique essential app. A person will simply have to buy it from you because they are stuck with you. To sell 100k on the iTunes App Store you’ll have to invest much much more. Wanna be a billionaire? Be a CEO of a startup, get a lot of funding for development and marketing and go for Apple. Wanna be a millionaire, work hard and go for BlackBerry (while it lasts). As an indie dev, BB10 is just more reachable therefore much more motivating. Oh, and you can apply my arguments if you change Apple for Android and BB10 for Windows Phone.

I hope that the answer to my question was clear and if you are smart enough, you won’t bother with BB10. (And will let this small gold mine just for a few silly ones).