About two years ago I sat down and learnt how to write simple Android applications. Coming from 10 years of web development experience, it was pretty insightful having to re-learn multi-threading, network blocking and all that fun stuff that is thick client UI development. Learning to use all these new tools like Eclipse and the ADT was also something of a learning curve, but the documentation was very good, and throughout the entire process I felt like I was making progress.
Fast forward a couple of years, and the mobile device landscape is radically different. Apple are the largest company on the planet, Google are trying really hard not to be Evil and BlackBerry are in deep, deep trouble. The PlayBook is a nice device, but seriously lacking in decent applications. And when I say seriously, that's an understatement; it doesn't even have an Email client!
So I get up one day and find an email in my inbox inviting me to submit my Android application to the PlayBook AppWorld. Why would I do this? Because they will send me a free PlayBook when it's accepted (AppWorld is a walled garden just like the iOS App Store). Not one to pass up the offer of free high-end gadgets, I decide to give it a crack.
The cynical readers of this blog probably know where this is going.
The BlackBerry PlayBook has about 129 different runtimes (possibly a slight exaggeration), but the one we care about is the Android runtime. This means that you can take an existing Android application and, with very minor modification, create a PlayBook application. The documentation provided by BlackBerry is poor, but not impossible to work through. You have to wait days for things like certificates to be generated, and I needed to send them a copy of my company's legal documentation, but after about a week I was ready to go.
All in it took about 4 hours to compile a PlayBook build of my application. Not bad. So I log into the App World developer area and go through the somewhat laborious submission process. After submission I receive an email thanking me and letting me know that they will be in touch soon.
Two weeks go by.
Then I get woken up to my daughter jumping on my head and an email in my inbox that reads (SIC)
Dear App World Vendor,
Unfortunately Release '1.0' from your product 'BenPaper Pro' has not passed testing and therefore cannot be approved for sale through BlackBerry App World.
The apps/games doesn't working properly
Thank you for your understanding in this matter,
The BlackBerry App World™ Team
That's it. It really is the mother of all bug reports: "The apps/games doesn't working properly". So I reply to that email asking for more information (the application worked fine in the simulator before I submitted it). I know what's coming next but I send the email anyway. 1 minute later:
This is a notification email only and replies to this email address are not monitored.
At this point I can see the next 3 months of my life experience with BlackBerry panning out in front of me. Here's what I just know is going to happen.
- I'm going to spend an hour on the AppWorld website trying, and failing, to find a more detailed bug report than "The apps/games doesn't working properly"
- Send a message via a really off-putting generic web form (does anyone actually receive these messages? I'm not going to put money on it)
- Wait about 3 weeks
- Hear nothing back
- Gnaw off my left hand
- Bitch some more on this blog about the level of service
- Have someone get back to me asking to resubmit the app
- Resubmit the app
- Hear nothing back for 2 weeks
- Gnaw off my right hand
How do I know this is going to happen? Because BlackBerry have busted out. You can tell from every interaction with them as a company. The whole process just reeks of too much middle management, poor engineering and bad decisions.
Here's the thing. BlackBerry have a pretty decent piece of hardware. They have ZERO apps on their platform. Here's what they need to do. It's quite simple.
1. Watch this video
2. Throw a chair out of the window
3. Put the developer at the very top of their list of priorities. I mean, THE VERY TOP. Give me an account manager that I can TALK TO ON THE PHONE
4. Get my app into the AppWorld as quickly as possible
Ballmer was right. When they are buying tablets, people don't say "ooh, it has a 5 megapixel camera instead of a 3 megapixel one". They say "can I use Facebook" and "can I Skype my mum". That's it. If it's 170 quid (and it is 170 quid, really!) and it has these applications, they will probably buy it. OK, fair enough, they probably don't say "I want BenPaper Pro goddammit!" but you see where I am coming from.
I don't think BlackBerry are going to do this, because I think BlackBerry as a company are broken beyond repair. The market thinks it too - they are trading way below book cost and have been for months.
We're building some iOS applications here at Solid State, so we'll see how the process compares. Oh, and if anyone at BlackBerry reads this, I'm waiting for your call.