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Developers flocked to Waterloo, Ont. on Thursday to preview RIM’s next-generation smartphone and pitch their app ideas. Go to tgam.ca/Dgpq for more pictures from BlackBerry Jam. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Developers flocked to Waterloo, Ont. on Thursday to preview RIM’s next-generation smartphone and pitch their app ideas. Go to tgam.ca/Dgpq for more pictures from BlackBerry Jam. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

At key RIM conference, developing a sense of hope Add to ...

For the first time in years, BlackBerry developers have reason to be optimistic.

Research In Motion Ltd. gave a group of software developers a preview of its next generation BlackBerry 10 smartphones at an event in Waterloo on Thursday. It was primarily a chance to convince developers that many of their long-standing complaints about the BlackBerry platform, such as the difficulty of creating animations for a BlackBerry app or making use of built-in phone features like the accelerometer, had been addressed.

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For the most part, developers seemed pleased with RIM’s new operating system, smartphones and developer tools. But like the investors who pushed RIM’s stock price down about 75 per cent over the past year, they were worried that BB10, as impressive as it appears, may be too late to the party.

“I think the concern for us is what the market’s response is going to be. RIM is going to be the last one at the table,” said Nicholas Armstrong, whose company Pravala designs WiFi connection management software.

“They’ve caught up, but catching up doesn’t necessarily convince people to switch.”

By showcasing two prototype BB10 devices on Thursday – a full touchscreen model and a smartphone with a physical keyboard – RIM hoped to convince developers and journalists that it was finally on track to release the phones on time. Reporters were given a demonstration of the BB10’s new features and user interface, as well as some hands-on time with the devices, but RIM executives demanded the sessions be off the record.

Like many other developers, Murtaza Saadat’s current focus is on Apple Inc.’s hugely popular iOS devices, such as the iPhone and the iPad. But he says he attended Thursday’s event to see whether RIM’s newest devices, due out early next year, will be able to compete. In that regard, he was pleasantly surprised.

“It’s pretty impressive,” said Mr. Saadat, whose startup UntitledD makes a video game production app for the iPad. “What they’ve shown here is a huge step forward.”

Although RIM’s event, called BlackBerry Jam, was partially focused on the consumer-facing attributes of the new phones, such as the look and feel of the devices and refinements to the keyboard, RIM executives spent most of their time explaining to developers how easy it is to build apps for the new devices. For years, developers have complained that it is difficult to build a BlackBerry app because of the many different models, operating systems and screen sizes.

With BB10, RIM’s main goal is to streamline the app-building process – something the company plans to do by letting developers build apps using any one of several programming languages and by giving them free tools that automate many of the most common app tasks and features.

“I believe BB10 shows a way of thinking about how developers use the devices that simply doesn’t exist on any other platform,” said Ritesh Patel, whose company Taab designs mobile payments software. Mr. Patel designs his apps primarily on BlackBerrys because RIM was one of the first companies to launch smartphones with NFC, a wireless communication technology that is pivotal in facilitating mobile payments.

“RIM’s on the right track to making its fans happy again – it’s just going to take time.”

But time is perhaps RIM’s most scarce commodity right now. After once again delaying the launch of BB10 this summer, pushing it back to the first quarter of next year, the company is struggling to convince customers to buy current-generation BlackBerrys. In the meantime, RIM continues to lose market share to competitors such as Apple and Samsung at an alarming rate, especially in the lucrative North American market.

 
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