RIM's developer schmoozing misses the point

By Nathaniel Mott , written on January 14, 2013

From The News Desk

BlackBerry 10 is facing an uphill battle. It's launching years after the shift to iOS and Android, a month after the holiday season, and has been pushed back numerous times, presumably so RIM could prepare it for the inevitable press coverage. The company has taken advantage of this waiting period to bandy money about in the hopes that developers will bring apps to the platform.

Some companies hold hackathons. RIM decided to hold a "Port-a-Thon." The initiative tasked Android developers with porting their apps to BlackBerry 10, offering $100 per approved app and 250 "Limited Edition" devices to developers who submitted five or more apps. According to a blog post, this worked out in RIM's favor, with some 15,000 apps submitted in a two-day period. But, lest we break out the champagne and talk about how this is good for RIM, let's look at it a little closer.

The main problem here isn't about RIM basically signing a blank check for $1.5 million as it continues to swirl the drain, both in terms of its share price and its slice of the smartphone market. You have to spend money to make money, etc. And this isn't about twisting another operating system's dominance into an advantage -- that's going to become more prevalent as time goes on. But this does send the wrong message to developers.

Submitting an app, especially one that has already been written, is easy. Well, relatively, anyway. Jumping over from Android to BlackBerry 10 and getting $100 sounds like a good deal -- the app already exists, why not expand the market and get paid at the same time? Because apps aren't "sell 'em and forget" goods. They require near-constant upkeep, squashing bugs and introducing new features to keep old customers happy and new customers coming.

That $100 isn't going to cover much if BlackBerry 10 gains any traction. And it sure as hell won't do too much if the operating system is embraced by a few passionate users who download an app expecting those constant updates, as so many do, drawing on a developers' time and attention with little reward. Supporting more than one operating system is rough, and developers have pulled their apps from one platform or another to focus on one market before.

Here's the developer of "Battleheart," a game that originated on iOS and then went to Android:

We spent about 20% of our total man-hours last year dealing with Android in one way or another - porting, platform specific bug fixes, customer service, etc. I would have preferred spending that time on more content for you, but instead I was thanklessly modifying shaders and texture formats to work on different GPUs, or pushing out patches to support new devices without crashing, or walking someone through how to fix an installation that wouldn't go through. We spent thousands on various test hardware.  These are the unsung necessities of offering our apps on Android. Meanwhile, Android sales amounted to around 5% of our revenue for the year, and continues to shrink. Needless to say, this ratio is unsustainable.
That's Android. That's the largest mobile platform in the world, more than ten times the size of BlackBerry. Think it's going to be worth bearing that burden with even less of a possibility for reward?

Of course, developers could simply submit apps and then let them hang out in BlackBerry's market place. RIM gets to say that its app store (no capitals) has thousands of apps, developers get $100, and users get shafted.

I don't think that will happen. Not on a large scale, anyway. But throwing money at developers and hoping that they will build something for a platform that's been burning to the ground for the last five years? That might look good on paper, but in reality it's likely going to be a footnote in BlackBerry 10's history.