Thoughts on the BlackBerry Slider: Carrier vs Developer Needs


We’ve been seeing a lot of pictures of the upcoming BlackBerry Slider and I’ve had a few conversations with developers I’d like to share. My primary concern about the BlackBerry Slider is that the impetus for its design comes from the carriers and what’s good for them, rather than the developers and what will truly benefit the platform.

While there is a lot we don’t know about the BlackBerry Slider, we do know that it incorporates several different input methods. These input methods include:

  • Trackpad
  • Touchscreen
  • Physical keyboard
  • Virtual keyboard (landscape mode)

Consider something as simple as navigation. With a trackpad device, you know a user will only be navigating horizontally and vertically (and possibly diagonally). With a touchscreen, you have to accommodate for the fact that the user will navigate anywhere. Combining the two, as well as having both types of keyboards, you’re creating a plethora of new instances for bugs and unpredicted entry.

Another development hassle is the possibility that SurePress is dead. This rumor has been circulating and it’s hard to believe it’s true. RIM has a lot of money invested in SurePress and abandoning the technology, even for one device, would be surprising to say the least. That being said, if they do abandon SurePress, developers now have to accommodate for yet another input method. Software ported to the SurePress Storm, now needs to be redeveloped to avoid the ‘highlight then select’ instance and replace it with simply ‘select’.

Complicating the platform is a step in the wrong direction. Developing for BlackBerry needs to get easier, and by adding more input methods, you’re doing just the opposite. So why is RIM going in this direction? If I had to guess, I would say it’s a carrier decision. RIM has historically done anything the carrier wants, because they value the relationship, and believe that if the carrier is happy more devices get sold and in the end RIM wins. This logic is sound but assumes the carrier knows how best to sell smartphones. Apple made the incredibly ballsy move of believing they knew better than the carrier, and it has done very well for them.

The BlackBerry Slider will definitely be a big seller, because it likely has a lot of carrier marketing data behind it that says users are looking for a touchscreen slider. I’m sure whatever carrier is requesting it (almost certainly Verizon), believes it will give them an offering their competition (AT&T) doesn’t have (namely an iPhone with a keyboard). On the other hand, developers now have a new device to add to their porting list, and it will be a long time after this device launches before we start seeing decent software available for it.

  • Caspan

    I agree this will turn developing on its head and drive you nuts. Its almost like the old HTML develop for Netscape or IE it drove me bonkers!!

  • DavidB

    I'm with you On RIM needing to make development EASIER, not HARDER. It's already hard enough that developers end up releasing iPhone and Android versions of mobile apps, heck sometimes even WinMo versions, LONG before BlackBerry versions. Even though BlackBerry has about double the user base in the USA it is SO HARD that developers opt for getting their apps built and out there over having a larger potential user base. SAD, and nobody to blame but RIM.

    RIM has historically made no bones about the fact that the carrier is their customer, NOT the end user. Apple and Google are going to show RIM the door if they don't make some adjustment to this philosophy, both are selling their smartphones direct (even though they are each exclusive to a particular carrier). RIM seriously needs to develop a direct relationship with it's end user customers if they want to hold off the forces of iPhone and Android.

  • dkonigs

    This reminds me of why I, as a developer, hate the BlackBerry Storm. The reason is that its one device with a unique UI, and a carrier-exclusive one, out of a whole multi-carrier product line of devices with a different UI. In other words, it makes the Storm a low-priority “special case” for those of us who can only dedicate so much time and effort. Something like the slider, especially if also carrier-exclusive, could be a similar headache.

    The other problem is that a lot of end-users pick up devices like the Storm because they think they look cool, discover that most software sucks on them (because not all developers have the time to rewrite their UIs, especially for older apps), and then blame the whole BlackBerry platform for it.

  • Jon

    I don't agree.

    As a developer, it shouldn't be that hard to develop for both the touch screen and trackpad.

    Hell, we already do it for the Storm and the Bold.

    As long as RIM doesn't do more stupid “compatiblity mode” tricks we should be okay.

    I'm more concerned about bugs in the API.

  • Eric at Ebscer

    The more I think about it, the more this phone is going to be a pain to develop for.

    Assume you want to use a trackpad based interface. At first you would think that you can use whatever was developed for the 9700, but then you realize that the screen resolution has been reversed, and you have to re-do the entire interface…

  • Plethora

    Disagree. This is (ie should be) the new direction for RIM. Developers will inevitably follow suit, ie follow the money.

  • Senator Larson

    There is a third group to consider here: The consumers. This consumer WANTS a touch-screen device with a keyboard.

  • Kyle McInnes

    Aggressive. I like it.

  • Kyle McInnes

    Aggressive. I like it.