This week in Orlando, SAP was a sponsor at the annual BlackBerry World conference. There are a few takeaways that made this year’s event an interesting one. There was great anticipation for Thorsten Heins’ first keynote as CEO. The audience was eager to hear what many were referring to as a ‘make it or break it’ keynote. My first impression was that it was great to see the company really focusing on meeting the needs of millions of BlackBerry users. These are people who type with two thumbs, have mastered walking without crashing into poles, and who engage with their device by ‘leaning forward’ instead of ‘leaning back’.
The unveiling of the BB10 platform really takes the BlackBerry user experience to an entirely new level. I think back to my days as a co-op student in 1996, when I worked at RIM in Waterloo. I remember writing the first manual for the ‘RIM Inter@ctive Pager’ on the DataTac and Mobitex networks – in fact I still have a copy of the printed pager-shaped brochure that I was a hand model for. Even 16 years ago, RIM knew that innovating the keyboard was important- and they haven’t forgotten this basic principle. BlackBerry users still love typing on a keyboard today.
It was fascinating to see the incredible innovation in the smart virtual keyboard coming on the new BB10 smartphones. The keyboard itself becomes personalized to you as you type on it, and has context correction. Hopefully that will result in reduced errors like my personal favourite auto-corrected greeting ‘How ate you’.
According to analyst Maribel Lopez of Lopez Research, “RIM’s keynote highlighted that there is more innovation happening within the firm than we as analysts have given them credit for… It’s further along than I’d expected and more interesting.”
While the keynote was one highlight, another was the BB10 Developer Jam event, co-located with BlackBerry World. SAP’s Pete Graham was invited to participate on the keynote stage, showcasing an HTML5 prototype app. He presented in front of over a thousand developers eager to see companies who are already using the BB10 platform. The SAP financial mobile prototype app demonstrated great cross-platform support, running on the Bold 9900, PlayBook 2.0, and the BB10 Dev Alpha device (that was given to all Dev Jam attendees). Pete highlighted the mapping improvements on the Playbook and some of the touch drag n drop of customer information.
Pete, who isn’t a developer, was introduced to the Playbook’s HTML5 capabilities at the BlackBerry Developer Conference in Oct 2011. He wanted to see how easy it would be for a non-developer to take a desktop HTML5 app and make it run on the Playbook. Always eager to serve customers in the financial services industry (his day job), Pete started with a desktop HTML5 prototype that was written to investigate displaying financial data for customers. Even though he hasn’t programed in years, it only took about 5 hours (starting from scratch) to complete the entire process – including downloading the SDK, installing the signing keys, and packaging the app to work. No code change required!
Cross-platform support is pretty critical in the enterprise, and we knew that the audience wanted to see first hand that they can build once and have it work on all BlackBerry devices. Pete extended his app to the phone and the tablet form factors where the HTML5 code worked with some tweaks to take advantage of touch vs mouse click.
The response to being the first company to showcase an HTML5 app on the Dev Alpha device was great – after the keynote, people crowded around the stage asking Pete many questions about the project and the new Dev Alpha device.
SAP now has 24 demo apps ported over to the BB10 platform. Nithin Simakurti Jagadish, who developed the UI for several of the demo apps and is responsible for Value Prototyping at SAP, attended the BlackBerry Dev Jam conference and was quoted in a widely published article sharing that developers can write apps with several different types of code, including Android code, making it easy to design apps for both Android and BlackBerry. According to Nithin “You can develop apps on several different platforms, which other competitors don’t offer, which is pretty cool.”
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised about the positive momentum and innovation going on a RIM. BlackBerry World was a great conference - we’re looking forward to seeing the BB10 devices in market later this year.