It’s not nice to knock a company when it’s down, but I had a briefing earlier today in Barcelona with Alec Saunders, the head of developer relations at RIM, which — depending on whether you support RIM or not — either speaks to the company’s new, original attack on the market, or a sign of why it won’t succeed.
The bottom line is that RIM, in a way, seems to think that size doesn’t matter these days.
The company, which last week released the 2.0 version of its PlayBook tablet software, is now gearing up for the next edition of its handset OS, BlackBerry 10.
Saunders says his job, to encourage more and more developers to come to BlackBerry’s platforms, has been getting easier with the release of PlayBook 2.0, with “download numbers of the software off the charts, with traffic in the petabytes.” No word on how that has translated to sales, but there are anecdotal instances, he says, of more interest in the PlayBook tablet, too.
According to RIM, 30 percent of PlayBook owners upgraded within the first 24 hours, and a week later over half have upgraded to the new OS.
Saunders says that RIM’s App World has apps in the range of 60,000 at the moment, with about 7,000 submitted for the PlayBook, and that he is working hard to grow that number to “boost customer satisfaction.”
Even so, he said that trying to get to the same numbers as Apple’s App Store or Android’s Market — estimated to be in the region of 500,000-700,000 apps each — is a pointless ambition.
“What does it mean to have 500,000 or 700,000 apps on a platform? There may be 30,000 unique apps in existence in that. There is a lot of duplication.” Taking one example, he says, Android has 900 solitaire apps, and the App Store has 1,200. Meanwhile, he points out that RIM’s duplication issues only extend to perhaps two or three versions of similar apps.
Equally, he notes that cameras that offer 41 megapixels — Nokia launched such a device just earlier today, its latest Symbian smartphone — are “meaningless.”
“It’s similar to the idea of 500,000 apps. At 17 megapixels, a camera is completely sufficient,” he said.
RIM has, to be fair, had some good stories in the area of apps: of those developers who have ported their Android apps to RIM’s platform for PlayBook, 42 percent say they have made more from the App World. Saunders puts that down to easier billing methods (it integrates with carrier billing, via Facebook’s new partner Bango), but also that those apps are easier to discover in a less-crowded market.
The number of Android apps that will join the party, it should be pointed out, will have a limit to its growth because while Android is open source, it also includes a number of Google-specific features that will not work on RIM’s devices.
More pressing is the fact that so many developers for RIM’s BlackBerry products have created apps in java that will not port when RIM launches BlackBerry 10 later this year. Saunders says it is still trying to work on a solution for that — in addition to trying to simply encourage those developers to start rewriting the apps.
Saunders’ point — that claiming high numbers are not an ambition in itself — is that no-one, or not many, will ever want to use a 17-megapixel function. Or that 500,000 apps will get discovered.
Taken one way, it’s a right-sizing of the company. Taken another, is this a company that has turned its back on ambition and aiming for something better than what it is today?