Despite 'deficiencies', some Ottawa firms remain bullish on new BlackBerry
Research in Motion’s push to develop a new generation of BlackBerry devices is coming too late for some developers in Ottawa, who say they are investing less in creating apps for the Waterloo-based firm’s smartphones.
Purple Forge's Brian Hurley. (Provided)
Many local developers are frustrated with RIM, notably with the way apps are made through its platform.
“Working with RIM is good. They offer a big client base … but that being said, there has been a level of complacency,” says Adam McNamara, the co-founder of Select Start Studios. It specializes in mobile design work across platforms ranging from Apple to BlackBerry to Android.
“One of the biggest challenges is that the developer tools are very far behind most of the other platforms, especially Apple. I think this is something they’ve acknowledged; there’s a big deficiency there.”
Likewise, Purple Forge’s Brian Hurley rhymed off a list of problems: the need to develop different versions for different BlackBerry models, the extra lines of code needed to deal with BlackBerry’s security requirements, and the long response time developers get when asking RIM for help.
“As a Canadian, you want to support a Canadian company, but it comes down to the business,” said Mr. Hurley, whose company mainly develops for Apple platforms, and has created apps such as the Will and Kate iPhone app that ran in tandem with the royal visit to Ottawa in July.
Early that month, technology analyst website Boy Genius Report published an open letter from what it said was a former high-ranking RIM employee.
“The truth is, no one in RIM dares to tell management how bad our tools still are. Even our closest dev partners do their best to say it politely, but they will never bite the hand that feeds them,” the letter read.
RIM’s stated response to the letter would not confirm if an employee had written the missive.
The company added it was “actively addressing” concerns about its development process.
One Ottawa shop is betting on that happening quickly.
Paul Dumais is currently at the helm of a six-month-old company called Smarter Apps, which develops solely for BlackBerry and now employs seven full-time employees and three part-time students.
He started out in 1999 at a Waterloo firm, MKS, that happened to lease space next to a “small company called RIM.”
“Every day at lunch I would sit down and see people with their BlackBerrys. They were showing us what they were,” he recalled.
Those lunchtime meetings proved valuable, as he became senior technical architect at RIM in 2008 and created the company’s app store to target the consumer market.
Today, he says there’s plenty of room to grow if RIM offers the QNX operating system on Blackberry, as planned. He adds he “can’t understand” why developers are turning away, but doesn’t mind as it’s less competition going forward.
“If you have the patience and the knowledge and the expertise to do this, the nice thing about the BlackBerry market is that it is not very crowded,” he said.
Mr. Dumais worked closely with John Criswick as co-founders of Rove, which develops mobile software for information technology administrators who need to monitor computer systems. That company was also a heavy developer for BlackBerry.
Mr. Criswick said the experience helped him with another company he created: Magmic, a mobile gaming firm.
And he’s also bullish on QNX contributing to the BlackBerry.
“I see QNX as a way to take us into new areas … because QNX is everywhere,” he said, citing its automotive systems as an example.
“My experience with RIM is they’re often attacked,” he continued.
“But they’re really strong, and have strong momentum as a company, and they know what they’re up to. But they’re not good at communicating and marketing. That’s the traditional Canadian way.”