BlackBerry (Nasdaq: RIMM; Toronto: RIM) says software developers are gung ho about developing applications for its BlackBerry 10 operating system and that rather than shrink, its "vendor base has growth 157 percent," according to a blog post by Alec Saunders, one of its senior executives. Saunders was responding to what he described as a shocking and allegedly erroneous report from an analyst at Baird Equity Research.
The opposing view is worth discussing further in light of what the shrinkage in the pool of developers working on applications for RIM devices might mean for the company. Considering the challenges already facing the company, a decline in interest from software application developers could further endanger the Canadian company at a time it needs to make a huge splash when it finally introduces the latest upgrade to the BlackBerry operating system.
Saunders tried hard to reshape the conversation surrounding RIM. Considering his position within the company, the numbers he threw out should also be convincing. Here's more from Saunders:
We have developers submitting amazing apps for BlackBerry PlayBook users. In fact, the BlackBerry PlayBook app catalog has grown by more than 15,000 apps since January 1 of this year. We just announced that more than three billion applications have been downloaded from BlackBerry App World since launch.
But much more importantly, the BlackBerry 10 Jam World Tour we are currently hosting in 23 cities across the globe has seen over capacity registration in almost every city, including New York, Santa Clara, Toronto, Jakarta, Singapore, Delhi, and Montreal. We have already spoken to almost 5,000 developers and the feedback has been phenomenal (don’t take my word for it, search Twitter for the hashtag #bb10jam).
I don't doubt Saunders's sincerity or the intensity of his passion about the BlackBerry operating system. But here's the opposing view. Baird analyst William Power reportedly said:
...31 percent of BB10 developers had migrated their work to other operating systems this quarter, mainly Google's Android system... Many developers who planned to jump ship have already made the move, leaving a BlackBerry developer base that is smaller but increasingly loyal.
There's no confusion here. In some ways, one could argue that both parties are actually right. If you are a developer today and you don't truly believe anymore that RIM and its BlackBerry operating system will continue to play a commanding role in the mobile communications equipment market, it is likely you've already moved on to other platforms or that you devote less time to RIM apps. Conversely, if you've decided to place a huge bet on RIM, then the probability is pretty high that you would be cranking out a prodigious number of apps for BlackBerry OS.
It doesn't seem farfetched to believe developers might be paying more attention to Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iOS and Google's Android: The two operating systems currently dominate the market. At the same time, it's unlikely that RIM, with customers in the hundreds of millions still using the BlackBerry (I still have mine), would be completely abandoned by developers. Responses to Saunders's blog, for instance, showed clearly that there are still many developers passionate about the BlackBerry.
What this controversy doesn't change, however, is that RIM is still in a precarious situation. The company may have committed developers but their passion won't count for much if it doesn't quickly unveil the update to its operating system and if it fails to wow the market. Saunders' point about how the "BlackBerry PlayBook app catalog has grown by more than 15,000 apps since January 1 this year," falls flat with me. The PlayBook tablet PC is not a success by any stretch of the imagination. Even if it has apps in the millions, RIM isn't currently benefitting from this because consumers aren't buying the PlayBook.
If RIM wants to win this fight and squelch the controversy about developer patronage, it should stop delaying the rollout of the new operating system and make sure it rocks. It also needs to follow up with devices consumers can't resist. That should shut down the negative reports. It might even receive a ratings upgrade from Baird's Power.