I read this interesting and in-depth article yesterday about a student who tried to develop an app for RIM’s new PlayBook tablet. It’s a little long, but if you have a few minutes this fine Saturday morning, it’s very funny well worth a read. No one of the problems getting set up is worth a whole blog post, but all of them are. The author also has experience designing iOS and Android apps, so he takes time to contrast the ease with which you can get up and running on those platforms compared to this one. Remember, the Playbook doesn’t actually exist yet; they’re asking developers to make applications for a platform that doesn’t exist, and they’re not making it easy.
Why should they make it easy? Well, that’s a good question! Certainly you can expect developers to think for themselves, in contrast to normal users, who deserve a lot more hand-holding. However, this process is designed from a business perspective; that is, they’re expecting one developer to take a few days, learn the ins and outs, and then teach the rest of a development team. This works well in dev shops, since information-sharing is something I think geeks do really well. However, it doesn’t work well for independent developers who don’t get paid if they don’t make apps.
What I mean is that, as a student, I can’t afford two days of forum-hunting to find out why my PlayBook simulator won’t install, and I don’t own a fax machine to send RIM a document signed by a notary verifying my identity. If I’m going to develop an app, it’s going to be on a platform that I can spend less time setting up and more time doing what I love - developing.
RIM has always been a business which makes things for businesses. They’re really good at it, too! I’m not saying at all that RIM’s a bad company, but the things RIM cares about are the things that businesses care about: security, device provisioning, tie-in with mail servers, and so on. They struggle at what consumers want: easy to use devices which run apps they want.
I admit BBM is pretty cool, and RIM’s latest marketing campaigns are slick, but they’re still lagging behind when other software giants like Microsoft and Google have caught up to the bar that Apple set in 2007. While they’re applying bandages to the problem, like focusing on user-experience in the web browser and launching App World, these problems with developer relations are a indicative of a continued corporate focus on only doing business with other businesses.
They can do whatever they want to, since their position in business and government is very secure, but RIM’s playing catch-up in the consumer marking and they’re ignoring a pool of innovative and fresh independent app developers.