Mike Kirkup on where BlackBerry goes next.
There’s a whole lot of super going on in the mobile industry right now. Google described its Nexus One as a ‘superphone’ when it was unveiled in January, and then last week Research In Motion laid claim to the phrase ‘Super Apps’ to describe cutting-edge BlackBerry apps.
“We’ve talked a little bit about it before, but this is really announcing a formal title for it,” Mike Kirkup, RIM’s director of developer relations, told ME at Mobile World Congress. “It’s about creating a new class of apps that are rich, contextual and heavily integrated into the other apps on the device.”
That means more use of RIM’s own APIs for features like push and geolocation, as well as connecting out to other apps on a user’s device, sending them from one to another when necessary.
An early example is RIM’s own Twitter app, which is currently in invite-only beta. It lets people tweet from their inbox as well as from the app, while also reading their Twitter messages in the inbox.
Previously-announced apps that would seem to fit in include eBay’s BlackBerry app, which integrates with push and the calendar, as well as LinkedIn, which works with the handset’s contacts list, and 7Digital’s music store, which links to the Nobex Radio Companion app.
“It’s about this rich, seamless and integrated app experience,” says Kirkup. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just leverage the platform. We want developers to start differentiating their apps on BlackBerry. It’s not for selfish reasons: they can be more successful selling those apps on BlackBerry than on other platforms if they get a user experience that you can’t live without.”
Selfish might not be the word, but there’s no doubt RIM has an eye on the competition with this initiative. It’s all about multi-tasking and background running, which as you won’t need reminding, still aren’t possible on iPhone.
Apple’s App Store also looms large when Kirkup talks about the BlackBerry App World having a “base level of content – not hundreds of thousands of apps, but high-quality apps that our users can’t live without”.
With Microsoft also talking about the downside of a huge app catalogue, it seems 2010 will see Apple’s rivals trying to portray the sheer size of the App Store as a weak point. Whether they’ll succeed remains to be seen, of course.
At its BlackBerry Developer Conference last November, RIM announced a series of services that it’d be making available to developers: advertising, payments, location and push. The latter is now live, with numerous apps making use of it. What about location?
“It’s in the final stages of beta, and will be live in the very near future,” says Kirkup, who’s keen to stress that location isn’t the be-all and end-all of apps. “Everybody used to think location WAS the killer app, but it’s not and hands-down never will be. What location enables is the killer applications.”
And advertising? RIM’s strategy is interesting on this front, because it’s chosen to aggregate various ad networks and make it easier for BlackBerry developers to choose between them, rather than launch its own offering. At a time when Apple has bought Quattro Wireless and Google is in the process of buying AdMob, it’s a telling difference in approach.
“We like to be contrarian, and it speaks to our partnership approach,” says Kirkup. “We’re not trying to be the advertising giant: we’re working with all the different advertising companies in the world to mobilise their ads and get them in apps.”
Localisation will also be a big theme for RIM’s advertising offering, with the company ensuring that its ad units will always serve up local ads from local networks – although with relevance to the user (i.e. American BlackBerry users won’t see Spanish ads when they visit Barcelona).
But check the example Kirkup uses to illustrate the benefits of this approach:
“AdMob is a US-based company, and it’s very good at serving ads in the US, but has no clue how to serve up an ad in a Spanish context,” he says. “But we can find an advertising provider in Spain that has that capability to fill into the app of a developer in the US or UK, for example. If you have AdMob as your partner today, there’s a huge amount of not just development work, but business development work.”
Taken out of context, these comments could be portrayed as an attack on AdMob, which wasn’t on the list of networks mentioned in the original announcement for RIM’s advertising service. However, rather than interpreting it as saying developers shouldn’t work with AdMob, I’d suggest it’s more an argument for the merits of RIM’s aggregation approach over working with a single global ad network.
Even so, I suspect AdMob may have something to say about the claim that it’s clueless beyond the US – and it’s interesting that Kirkup chose to speak so openly about one particular ad network.
Localisation was a big theme for RIM at Mobile World Congress, though. The company is kicking off a series of developer days around the world, starting with Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Wherever it holds an event, it’ll aim to leave behind a local developer group, to help companies connect and share information.
“The biggest thing from developers is they want us to come to them in their local culture and city,” says Kirkup. “We’re going in and getting people up to speed with what’s possible on the platform, then leaving them with a local community of people, with the developer group managers connected into RIM to hear what’s happening with the platform.”
The company’s efforts extend to localising its forums and enabling queries to be transferred between them – so a question that hasn’t been answered on the Spanish forums will be translated and asked to the English-speaking forums, and vice versa.
“There’s a mantra of local culture, local language and local city,” says Kirkup. “If you’re Chinese or Spanish, you shouldn’t have to learn English to do BlackBerry development.”