by Tony Patterson
Ottawa connection? For those who have been out of touch for the duration, the Ottawa connection comprises QNX, Alec Saunders and shades of Prem Watsa. You know the first two: QNX built RIM's operating system, known as BlackBerry 10. But it's not yet in the phones. (They're pushing for the fall.) Alec Saunders is a Waterloo-cum-Microsoft grad who has been Ottawa-bled in a decade-long struggle to get voice tech startup Calliflower off the ground. Now vice-president of developer relations at QNX/RIM, his goal is to enlist 50,000 app developers this year to ... develop apps for RIM.
And how about Prem Watsa, 61, CEO of Fairfax Financial. Reserved but revered for his canny and fantastically successful investment record, he's walking the talk, for sure, becoming a RIM director, laying his money down.
That's good for RIM and, by extension, good for Canada's tech sector. Whatever is good for RIM is good for Canada's tech sector. The worst thing conceivable these days is that RIM should follow Nortel into the crater. God forbid. Mr. Watsa's doing his part: when Mr. Lazaridis flamboyantly announced he'll invest another $50 million in RIM, Mr. Watsa allowed as how he might follow suit. (If either actually did it that day, he'd have lost $8 million in the past month.)
Fairfax is already the fourth-largest investor in the company. And it's here that the Ottawa connection resides. No. 2 and "lead director" at Fairfax is Anthony F. Griffiths. Through the early 1990s, Tony Griffiths was chairman and CEO at Mitel and mentor of the tech firm's CEO-in-waiting, Kirk Mandy. Mr. Griffiths went home to help Mr. Watsa become Canada's Warren Buffett. (As a matter of interest and disclosure, Mr. Griffiths was a modest investor in the newspaper I founded, Silicon Valley North, in the mid-1990s.)
QNX is doing its part. Mr. Watsa is doing his. So is Alec Saunders, which brings me back to apps. Mr. Saunders might not put it this way but he could use some help. Not only is he playing catch-up with Apple and Android, he doesn't yet have in hand the product for which developers are supposed to develop apps. What he has is 95 per cent there and what he needs now is the trust of the community. Developers have to believe that BlackBerry is coming back and that it's worth diverting some effort from making iPhone apps, or Google apps or now Microsoft apps. BlackBerry created mobile and it's still early days for mobile. BlackBerry's still a good bet. BlackBerry's coming back big time.
RIM is important to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. We let Nortel slide with scarcely a sigh. It should never happen again and if we have anything to do about it, it never will. In this case there is something we can do. We can contribute enthusiastically to RIM's app store. We can build the apps. RIM is us. Let's get to it.
And here's something to do right now. On May 1, RIM's BlackBerry Jam 10 conference for app developers gets underway in Orlando, Fla. If you're not going yourself, take a minute to let Mr. Saunders know that we're here for him and RIM. It'll be good to share news down south that the home team is putting in extra effort. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Tony Patterson is editor of SCAN and co-editor of Muck Rack Daily.