ORLANDO

The only way to find out what app developers think of the BlackBerry platform is to ask them, so that’s what the Toronto Star did at this week’s BlackBerry 10 Jam conference, and it’s what I did, too.

While the Star chatted with Communitech Hub denizen Josh Hillis of PairMobile, I had the random luck to share a table at breakfast with Pavel Carpov, whose Spooky House Studios in Germany makes popular games for mobile devices.

Carpov, who has developed for Apple and Android but not BlackBerry, recently  decided to port all of his games to the RIM platform, and offered a simple reason for doing so: “It’s just an extra market for us.”

He hasn’t regretted the decision, nor his trip to Orlando for his first-ever BB10 Jam, where he learned just how easy it’s going to be.

“They’ve combined all the technologies, so they support any programming language and whatever technology there is now for gaming,” Carpov said. “That’s pretty cool.”

His was a familiar opinion throughout the conference rooms and corridors of the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, where I had another chance meeting today, this time with Christopher Smith, the RIM exec charged with making sure developers have what they need to build BlackBerry apps.

I thought it would be fitting to close my conference coverage by passing along the observations Chris shared with me about this most momentous week for BlackBerry’s future.

Q – Tell me what you do for RIM.

A – I’m Vice-President of the Application Platform and Tools team, which is basically a lot of what you saw released down here this week – all of the developer tools; the SDKs, the APIs and a lot of the system services and components that we package up in the device. This includes things like the virtual keyboard and stuff like that.

Q – How does this Jam session compare to previous ones? What’s different?

A – The big thing is that we’re fully unveiling and delivering the BlackBerry 10 development platform, so it’s something we’ve certainly been talking about.

We’ve been talking about our vision and preparing developers since our developers’ conference in San Francisco last October, but this week we are putting the full set of tools into developers’ hands, along with hardware that they’ll be able to use to target, build and test their applications. They’ll do this knowing that it’ll be representative of what the final experience will be like on the launch devices.

This has been all about serving developers, getting them everything they need, getting them off the ground with labs, with sessions, with talks. That’s been the focus.

There’s a lot of energy; a lot of happy developers.

Q – I know it’s early; the BB10 Dev Alpha devices have only been in people’s hands since yesterday, but what has the feedback been like so far?

A – The response has been very positive.

We have a range of developer demographics that we serve with our platform. It’s a very open platform that provides a lot of flexibility for developers.

We have everything from BlackBerry Java developers who have grown up on the platform and they’re looking to make this transition now to BlackBerry 10, to Web developers who have either been building for BlackBerry or for other platforms, and they’re bringing their content to the table. We have game developers, we have Adobe AIR developers, we have Runtime for Android developers.

So, it’s really a wide range of developers who are coming, and I think across the board they’re very happy with the approach we’re taking, with the tools we’re providing them.

They’re certainly very happy to have a piece of hardware that they can run their code on.

One thing that amazed me was that we started giving the devices away yesterday morning at 7:30, and at lunch we had a session with our BlackBerry Ambassadors, some of our closest partners. And we asked, ‘How many of you actually have code running on this already?’ and about half the audience had already, within two to three hours, managed to get code up and running and they were looking at their application on the Dev Alpha device.

That’s really because we’ve used PlayBook and the QNX platform that we’ve built up on the tablet OS as the jumping-off point for BlackBerry 10.

So, people who had WebWorks applications or AIR applications or native applications on PlayBook were able to bring them over very easily.

And then with Cascades, we’re really providing this next-generation UI framework, where a lot of the flow and the rich, fluid interface that we’re driving in BlackBerry 10 is baked right into the framework.

So, we’re getting tremendous response, particularly from our Java developers who are making the transition over that this is actually addressing a lot of the concerns and problems we’ve had with the BlackBerry Java development platform in the past.

We’re making it very easy for you to target multiple devices so that you don’t have to have separate builds for every specific form factor.

We’re giving you a complete UI framework so that you don’t have to do things like build progress indicators or drop-downs yourself; you get that in the framework.

And we’re building a set of controls that kind of encapsulate the core navigation principles, like tab pane views with menus that float in. All of that is there in the framework.

So, across the board, we’ve got really great response.

Q – So how easy is it now to develop for BlackBerry compared to other platforms?

A – There are several parts to that.

I think we are providing what is truly the only complete, open platform. We support a wide range of open-source libraries, so for anybody who has a background or code that works in those libraries, it’s very easy for them to bring that code across.

Those developers are telling us, literally, ‘I had something I was running natively on iOS or on Android and it took a day to get it running on PlayBook’, and it’s going to be exactly the same for BlackBerry 10.

So, for that demographic, for anybody who’s using open libraries, it makes it very, very easy.

For Web, we have the best standard support now in both the tablet and in the smartphone, bar none, across the industry. So, anybody who’s working in Web technology can be very confident that it’s going to be very easy to get whatever they have up and working seamlessly on our platform.

And in terms of developers who are used to a native framework, with high-level UI and rich tooling, this is where Cascades really steps in. So, for anybody who’s worked with Microsoft platforms in the past and are familiar with declarative programming, or building up a scene and attaching data and actions and events to that scene, Cascades provides an incredibly rich framework that’s very easy to use.

We’ve had a number of partners already building applications with Cascades; we’ve kind of previewed it and given them the SDK a couple of weeks early, and we had a bunch of them up with us in the keynote showing off what they’ve been able to do in just a few short weeks, and it’s incredible.

They’re saying the UI for this was literally 90 per cent done in markup, with JavaScript, and then they’re dropping down into C++ when they need to.

So, for developers coming from an iOS background working in Cocoa, or who come from a Microsoft background working in XAML and Silverlight, it’s very natural for them to step into this environment.

We’re hearing that we’ve even gone a little bit further in terms of what we provide in the framework and how easy we make it.

Q – Last question: What’s your favourite BB10 app so far?

A – There are a few; that’s a tough question.

I would have to say the PixelMags app; this is a publication, subscription and content-consumption application, and it’s just stunning. It’s completely done in Cascades, so with beautiful, graphic, animated cover flows; rich animations to have some of the items flow onto the screen, so that’s got to be up there.

Although, the AccuWeather app developed by Xtreme Labs out of Toronto is very rich and visually stunning, and makes very good use of all of the core controls in the platform.

The guys from Macadamian have done this really cool open-source sample where they were streaming live Twitter data into this enterprise sports-executive app, so that they could order the right shirts for the NBA playoffs based on what trends they were seeing in Twitter. A really cool app.

We’ve seen a whole pile.

Then we’ve got guys like Magmic, who’ve taken their Texas Hold ‘Em King franchise and brought that up on BlackBerry 10. You can actually play a game of poker with a PlayBook, a BlackBerry 5, 6 or 7 device and a BlackBerry 10 device.

So there’s a lot of great stuff coming up.

About The Author

Anthony Reinhart
Director, Editorial Strategy
Google+

Anthony Reinhart is a veteran journalist who left the Globe and Mail to join Communitech in 2011. Tony has covered everything from crime, politics and courts to business, the arts and sports, and his writing has won numerous journalism awards. He is Communitech's Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer.