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7/13/2011
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Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
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RIM Faces Developer Exodus

Research in Motion is being challenged by more modern smartphone platforms, and now the embattled company faces a new threat: developers are moving on to greener pastures

The Blackberry was once the device of choice for corporate America, and much of the world for that matter. IT departments love how easy it is to configure the devices and users once gushed at how pleasurable the keyboard and various scrolling mechanisms were to use. That all began to change in 2007 when the iPhone came out and the public realized what a smartphone really could be. Developers are now starting to walk away from the platform too, choosing to invest in other operating system that appear to have a brighter future.

RIM has never had bragging rights in application count. It is estimated they have 25,000 apps in the App World market, but 7,500 of those are visual themes and 9,000 are ebooks, so that leaves about 8,500 true applications. Compare that to Windows Phone 7's Marketplace, which has around 25,000 real applications. That is especially troublesome when you consider two factors. First, WP7's Marketplace is a mere nine months old compared to App World, which is well over two years old. Second, RIM's market share is several times that of Windows Phone. Why then are app counts so much higher on Microsoft's fledgling platform? Shouldn't Blackberry have app counts closer to the numbers that iOS and Android boast?

Based on the sentiment of some developers, things are only getting worse. Seesmic, the popular Twitter client, announced last week that it is shutting down all Blackberry development and recommended that its users explore other apps like Twitter for Blackberry or Socialscope. Seesmic is going to focus its mobile energies on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7.

According to BusinessWeek, the cost to develop for Blackberry is just too high compared to the other major platforms. Part of that cost is a result of fragmentation. RIM has devices with keyboards, without keyboards, some have touch screens, there is no standard screen size, and the method for scrolling and selecting information is too varied. This was one of the problems Windows Mobile had in its later years and one of the key reasons Microsoft did a full reboot and then instituted much tighter controls on how the devices would operate. Android developers aren't immune to this fragmentation, but it is nothing compared to what a Blackberry developer is confronted with.

It doesn't help that the current Blackberry platform has been given a life span of potentially months. RIM is moving to QNX, the same platform that powers its PlayBook tablet. That, too, is like starting over. Palm did it with webOS and Microsoft did with Windows Phone. Only the latter, however, has garnered significant developer interest. Say what you want about Microsoft, that company knows how to motivate developers with great tools, something RIM doesn't have a great reputation for.

Will QNX help RIM's application story, or will it look more like the story webOS has seen, which is significant interest at launch and then virtually nothing after that?

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