What Makes Blackberry App a Super App - Summary of Webcast

What makes a Blackberry appliactoin to be a super app? This is the question that Mike Kirkup - head of developer relations at RIM tried to answer today in a free webcast. There has been an obsession recently with super phones and super apps as it seems. And why phones and/or apps have to be necessarily super?

So there seem to be two definitions of super apps according to Mike Kirkup.

If you take the blackberry phone from the user and he misses this app - then it is a super app since it provides an inherent value for the end user.

Another "definition" is more technical - so what are the main components that make a BlackBerry app a super app:

  • Always on experience
  • Seamless integration with 3d party apps
  • Notification driven
Not sure about you, but I see here a small misconception. On one side Mike says that if the application is extremely useful up to the point where if taken away from the user he will surely miss it but on the other hand there are specific points which actually make an app to be a super app. So what if the app is very useful to many people to the extent that they will surely miss it if taken away such as for example DailyHoroscope application for BlackBerry. Because many users of DailyHoroscope application are going crazy and flood us with mails in case we experience even minimal downtime. So the application is extremely useful to its users and certainly has value for them but according to the bullet points, DailyHoroscope is not a super app.
The source of confusion I think is that Mike meant if you take away BlackBerry device from the user, then other devices that may have similar apps will not be able to fill the gap. That's what makes any BlackBerry app a super app I would guess. The push mechanism and the multitasking and deep integration is something that does not exist on iPhone and/or iPod Touch, but similar things exist on Android and WebOS and Maemo are also actively developed and progressing  towards richer and richer platform.

So what makes specifically BlackBerry platform a super app enabler platform accodring to RIM? The first and the point which was put most of the emphasis was the “multi-threaded OS with background apps”. Other enablers mentioned were:

  • Contextual integration with apps
  • Rich event based notification model that integrates deeply in the system
  • Efficient push services
  • Integrated LBS and Mapping

Mike argued that the possibility of deep native integration allows easier “native” application integration in a cohesive manner into the system. The main point seems to be that since the applications do not have to invent everything from scratch by using built in components/services etc, the applications can deliver unified user experience which lowers the learning curve for the applications and eliminates most of the confusion in mastering a new app.

Starting from OS 5.0 RIM introduced (or better say exposed to 3d party developers) much richer built in components such as autocomplete, file picker, map field, browserfield, media player components (JSR 135 or MMAPI)

The power of push. Mike mentioned that RIM invented the push and were running it in production for more than 10 years and they know exactly what they are doing. (hear that Apple? haha... ). The push limitation for BIS is 8KB while for BES it is much higher and is specified by BES administrator but is hard limited (by I think 1MB in the older BES versions with much higher limit value in BES 5.0 - I think around 10Mb)

Overall it was an interesting webcast and Mike did a great job talking about all the things that are great about BlackBerry platform. I personally was a little disappointed since I expected much more technical session.

Q/A Session:

Q&A session was quite interesting. Mike zipped through more than 200 questions in less than 40 minutes with great and to the point answers. Thank you Mike! I documented the most interesting Q&As to my taste and the ones that are most likely to be interesting to other developers.

  • When advertising will be available?
  • For BB alliance the beta will be opening very soon. For the rest of the publishers - the time line promised by Mike was approximately 2 month
  • Time for application approval?
  • Depends on the type of the application submitted. In general it is about 10 days but they are supposedly getting at about 48 hours time
  • Is the PUSH service free for all the developers?
  • It is free for almost all the alliance partners but they are working on releasing it to all the developers
  • All those super apps running in the background will make the devices slow - what about more resources for the devices?
  • Mike said that they will continue to innovate in the device area but the overall answer was extremely vague
  • More tutorials and code?
  • There is a lot of tutorials and code currently available online but it is hard to find it. Current knowledge base will be restructured and reorganized and mostly replaced by developer resources which is some new knowledge base.
  • Book for developers from RIM?
  • Working on that with authors and the community RIM is unlikely to release the book of its own.
  • Developers competition for super apps? Is it something that is coming?
  • RIM is planning to run super app development challenge in 4 regions very soon and pick up the best super apps and showcase them in BBDevCon in the end of September
  • When 5.0 JDE will be out of Beta?
  • 5.0 JDE will be out of beta soon and will finally NOT require simulator restart to push the new build to the simulator (YEY!!! Great news, hopefully Eclipse will mirror that as well)
  • UI tools for GUI building
  • Working on UI tool which will be drag and drop tool that will generate Java code for you (That would be a blessing, although knowing how RIM executes development tools projects, the tool might very likely be quite unusable for anything more serious than placing a label field with "Hello World")
  • Paid applications worldwide timeline?
  • Worldwide is particularly difficult since RIM is supporting more than 150 countries. Support will be rolled out increasingly
  • Is JDE going to be phased out in favor of Eclipe?
  • Not right now. When RIM will feel that Eclipse has matured enough it will happen, but in general Eclipse is destined to replace the JDE
  • Are other development platforms going to be supported except Windows?
  • Mac is in the pipeline and support is likely to appear until the end of the year
  • App World is not as advertised as Apple's App Store
  • Rim will start being much more aggressive about promoting App World in the future but this is highly dependent on RIMS relations with carriers since RIM is tightly integrated with carriers and they rub each other's shoulder. (well, of course...)
  • Payments through carriers as opposed to payment through PayPal
  • App World 2.0 will have options to pay with either credit card, PayPal or through the carrier
  • Is Verizon's store going to compete with App World?
  • Not really as RIM is not competing with any of the 3d party stores like Handango, GetJar etc...
  • Are subscription based payments going to be supported in App World 2.0?
  • It is not clear exactly what it is going to be, but some sort of subscription payment will be available
  • What is the best cross framework to use for developing for BB? PhoneGap
  • PhoneGap is great but the apps built with those cross platform frameworks will not be super apps! This is not possible since those frameworks are targeting the lowest common denominator.
  • Suggested books?
  • There are 2 good books John Wargo which is more like a reference manual. Anthony Rizk is more smooth read book and is less like reference.
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  • What is the OS version to use as the lowest common denominator for development of super apps?
  • 4.6
  • Can I create a super app with SDK prior to 4.6
  • Yes you certainly can - many of the capabilities are available in the prior versions of the platforms
  • What is the process of migrating a simple app into a super app?
  • Think about how your simple app can take advantage of all the mentioned components that comprise a super app. Start thinking about your application and you will most likely realize that there are many ways to improve
  • Monitoring f uninstall of your own app - will it possible?
  • This is something that should be available in the next version of the next version.
  • Are free apps going to be able to use payments for donations?
  • Certainly - using in app payments is possible for that
  • Is advertising network be available worldwide?
  • Yes at the launch the advertising service will be available worldwide and then local advertising agencies will be added locally
  • What are you doing for developer training especially in Asia and Africa?
  • RIM will run BlackBerry developer days around the world. Follow our development blog for more details and updates.
  • Knowledge base is broken, I can not find any information there
  • The KB will be phased out and replaced with BB resource center
  • When normal developers will be able to use BIS?
  • This is something that RIM will be doing soon
  • Samples of a super apps?
  • Poynt app that was highlighted through MWC definitely have several characteristics of a super app
  • Are there any security risks with all this deep integration of the apps into the system
  • There is a
  • Any battery drain issues with the application always on interfacing with different system components?
  • RIM will release a simulator that will be able to simulate battery drain of the applications