Who—If Anyone—Is Developing BlackBerry Apps?
The young woman put down both of her vodka sodas (one was for a friend, she insisted) and leaned in so she could be heard better above the noise of the crowd.
"You know what? No one in this room is going to make anything for the BlackBerry 10," she said.
The bar at the Tribeca Grand in lower Manhattan was packed Tuesday night with New York tech scenesters at a party for the Laughing Squid, the independent web-hosting company that is famous for its witty blog and cephelapod logo. And, at least as far as I could tell by casual conversations with many of the developers at the bar, the two-vodka woman was right: none of them are developing any software for the new BlackBerry.
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The most common reaction to questions about developing for the BlackBerry was a simple scoff. Others launched into tirades against BlackBerry or predictions that BlackBerry's manufacturer, Research in Motion, would simply go out of business.
Clearly, this cannot be a universal opinion among software developers. RIM says that it aims to have 70,000 apps available when the BlackBerry 10 launches early next year. It has shipped 7,000 of the new phones to developers to give them something to work with. It is even offering a $10,000 bounty for developers who build what it calls a "SuperApp." Someone, somewhere is making apps for BlackBerry.
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But they are hard to find. Over the course of the last few weeks, I have asked over two dozen people working in mobile software development in New York City about BlackBerry apps. Not only have I failed to find one person who would admit to developing for the new BlackBerry, I have failed to find to anyone who knows anyone else developing for BlackBerry.
Admittedly, this isn't a scientific sampling of the developer community. But it does suggest that whoever is developing those mobile apps either isn't in New York or doesn't get out very much. Maybe they aren't talking to reporters because they are just working all the time to build those thousands of apps before the new phone launches. Or maybe I just happened to have encountered a skewed sample of developers.
One thing that appears to drive away developers is an anticipated lack of demand for the device. They do not believe it will sell well. Some who have seen or used the new device say it just isn't competitive with the Apple iPhone and Google Android phones. And because they don't believe in the device, they think demand for apps will be very low.
"Developers follow demand," said a young man in a wool cap at the Laughing Squid party. He runs a small software company that specializes in mobile apps. "Why would I work on an app for a product that no one wants?"
"This would have been a great phone — five years ago," said the owner of a development and strategy company.
There's a bit of a recursive loop about all this. BlackBerry needs app developers to embrace the product and design apps for it in order to succeed. But developers who believe the phone won't succeed won't develop for it, which could contribute to its failure.
At a quarter past midnight, I finally tracked down someone who said he might develop apps for the Blackberry--someday.
"If the phone takes off for some reason, then we might develop for it. But I need to see that proven before I'm going to commit time and resources to it," he said.
—By CNBC Senior Editor John Carney