This week's BlackBerry Jam Asia developer event in Hong Kong represents BlackBerry's first major public event since it announced its plan to go private and focus largely on enterprise apps. Asian developers have been more receptive to BlackBerry than many Western countries, but the focus appears to be heavily on gaming, social networking and broad consumer apps. Does that path have any real future now?
The Jam event was on the calendar long before BlackBerry's strategic shift was announced, so it would have been unreasonable to expect a wholesale change to the content. During the opening keynote, VP of developer relations Alec Saunders addressed the changed focus, referring to "the news from this week", but only briefly, and mainly to reiterate the company's continued commitment to all its developers.
"We remain dedicated to providing the best mobility experience for our customers," Saunders said. "Our focus remains on scaling the BB10 platform, on driving deployment of BES 10, on deploying multi-platform BBM and on deploying our secure network to users."
As you would expect at an event whose primary purpose is to rev up developers, there was plenty of data comparing the BB10 platform, which launched earlier this year, with its more visibly successful rivals, Android and iOS. Saunders pointed out that BB10 had 131,708 available apps after its first seven months, a much higher figure than iOS (17,500) and Android (2908) at the same time. Underscoring the success of BlackBerry in Asia (it's the dominant platform in Indonesia and the Philippines), 37 per cent of those apps were developed in the region.
The difficulty is that much of this success has come in the areas which it seems BlackBerry is now going to abandon or minimise. Martyn Mallick, vice president for BlackBerry World and global alliances, noted that the big areas of success have been games and social networking apps. "Not surprisingly, the gaming category is the largest in terms of the number of applications and the overall number of downloads. Social networking is super-popular and has the highest number of app downloads by far — it's not even close." The keynote showed a version of a BB10 client for Chinese social networking giant Sina Weibo, which is due for release shortly.
So the challenge is how to balance that success with the stated goal for BlackBerry if the expected privatisation goes ahead. Let's remind ourselves of it:
Going forward, we plan to refocus our offering on our end-to-end solution of hardware, software and services for enterprises and the productive, professional end user. This puts us squarely on target with the customers that helped build BlackBerry into the leading brand today for enterprise security, manageability and reliability.
That's a potentially sensible plan in terms of drawing on BlackBerry's established enterprise reputation in western markets. However, in this corner of the world, it feels a little like a backwards step — one that abandons areas where there is actually growth.
Disclosure: Angus Kidman attended BlackBerry Jam Asia as a guest of BlackBerry.