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BlackBerry Comeback: RIM Must Win Developer Support

Against odds, BlackBerry 10 is gaining hype and converting skeptics. To compete, though, it needs to attract developers. Does RIM have the app for that?
The spec sheet likely will also include a slew of accelerometers, gyroscopes and other sensors. These inclusions, although not unique to BlackBerry, could sway some developers' choices, given that the next generation of apps likely will use sensors that persistently monitor ambient conditions. BlackBerry 10 is thus ready not only for the current, touch-centric uses but also many of the cutting-edge ideas on the horizon.

As for the software, the interface is reportedly smooth, with a convenient and well-integrated hub that allows users to view emails, texts and social media activity without exiting whatever app is currently open. Other intriguing features include true multitasking capabilities and an onscreen keyboard that learns which words a user commonly misspells and applies adjustments. BlackBerry Balance, which separates work content from personal content, is noteworthy as well.

None of the software specs are paradigm-shifting the way the iOS initially was, so it remains to be seen if a phone that is merely competitive, rather than revolutionary, can attract large numbers of users and developers. But after all the doom and gloom surrounding RIM in 2012, the upcoming devices warrant optimism.

Sencha CEO Michael Mullany believes that BlackBerry 10's browser, which is expected to run HTML exceptionally well, is another developer draw. His company specialized in HTML5 and is a RIM partner, so his contention might not be surprising -- but with HTML5 steadily encroaching on native mobile apps, it's worth considering.

In an interview, he said that mobile phone users are "fickle" and relatively willing to jump from platform to platform. "HTML5 is a huge hedge for application developers," he said, noting that they can take the same set of skills to whatever platform happens to be popular. He claimed BlackBerry10's browser will offer a "superlative" experience that should do justice to the best work developers concoct. "People will be using HTML5 as a development technology to create apps for all except the most graphically rich multimedia apps," he predicted.

IDC research VP John Jackson, who was involved with the IDC-Appcelerator survey, said in an interview that "there's some merit to the argument" that HTML5 could attract more app builders to BlackBerry 10. "The most immediate thing it will do is open the door to a much, much broader population of developers," he said, although he cautioned that it will be "years" before HTML5 overtakes native apps in significance.

As for RIM's broader chances, Jackson noted the company's efforts to engage developers, concluding it has "had some success." Nevertheless, he said BlackBerry's resurgence will be "an extremely difficult maneuver to pull off." Although the OS has garnered positive buzz, it is being launched "into the teeth of the best Apple, Samsung, and Nokia have to offer," he said.

Even so, he offered that RIM could succeed without dramatically increasing its share of the smartphone market -- and the key could be developer support. "If we're going to look at RIM's success or failure in terms of market share, the news is not gonna be good," he said. Instead, a "reasonable barometer for success would be for the market to start thinking about RIM as a computing platform, not measuring it by product unit volumes."

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