BlackBerry App World Diary: Lessons Learned from a Developer’s Perspective

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To be able to join the BlackBerry Developers Challenge 2009 it was required to join App World – so I did last summer. I was honored that my application FileScout was chosen as one of the 16 finalists for Developer Challenge’s Sweet 16.

Being at the 2009 Developers Conference was a great pleasure. Meeting the App World Vendor support in person was one of my highlights. It’s always nice to meet the people with whom you are in contact with over email.

The first update of my FileScout application in App World had some issues and it was suggested to me at Dev Con that I should wait until RIM fixes some bugs with App World until I release my next update. This was back in November of 2009.

In March of 2010, I made FileScout a freemium application (free to try with paid features). In order to change to this model, the premium version of FileScout required registration codes. I waited an additional month to get any news from RIM concerning the App World enhancements that would help the update process, but even after 5 months since it was mentioned at Dev Con nothing had changed. I couldn’t wait any longer and on the 20th of April, 2010, I submitted the updated FileScout to App World.

FileScout Update v1.8.5

The last available version of FileScout was v1.3.0.2 (full) and v1.3.0.1 (trial). Both versions had been updated with a single v1.8.5. binary version. Additionally, the license model was changed from a static license model to a pool license model. The license model switch would require that all existing FileScout customers would need to be provided with a registration code after they have updated to the new v1.8.5. I was told that App World would provide the registration code as soon as a customer updated to v1.8.

23/04/2010 – FileScout v1.8.5 binaries confirmed

Before your application can be updated in App World, your binaries may be reviewed by RIM. If your binaries satisfy a certain level of quality, the new version will be approved. On the evening of the 23rd of April, the new version of FileScout was approved and with that, the license model was changed to “pool”.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the update process as the first time I updated my application in App World, RIM began to distribute the full (paid) version of FileScout to users who wanted to use the trial (free) version. This wasn’t such a big deal because as soon as users updated to the new version, they would need a registration code and only previous FileScout customers would receive one.

24/04/2010 – The day after the update

It’s always good to allow the different App World systems to synchronize themselves before you are going to make any functional tests yourself – so I waited 24h. In order to get a true user experience, I purchased FileScout myself in App World. I hoped to see an update notification for my application in App World but I waited in vain. Next, I grabbed some device simulators to check what new customers were seeing.

It turned out that if you had not been FileScout user before, everything looked fine. When you downloaded the trial version you received the v1.8.5 binaries and no registration code, allowing you to evaluate FileScout for 14 days. After evaluating the available download and purchase reports, it was clear that users who were purchasing FileScout were getting a registration code with their download as promised. For new paid and free customers, everything was going according to plan. The big question on my mind was:

What happens to customers that do a fresh App World installation (perhaps due to OS or device upgrade)?

When you make a fresh OS installation and then install App World, you can restore all previous purchased and installed applications by providing your PayPal login credentials. This process allows for FileScout to be restored as well. When you did this, the FileScout installation said that version v1.8.5 (the latest version) will be installed (340kb) and the installation starts. At around 250kb the progress bar jumps to the end and reports that installation is completed. The big surprise was that App World was delivering the very old v1.2.0.2 binaries to customers but sold these old binaries as v1.8.5!

App World was showing the user that they had v1.8.5 installed (also the device Options/Applications lists FileScout as v1.8.5), but the real AppDescriptor (within the cod binaries) of the application defendant is v1.2.0.2. So while it looks like App World had generated a .jad file with a version number of 1.8.5 but this jad was including/referring to the very old v1.2.0.2 cod files. At this point I knew I had to check the entire gamut of users to look for more anomalies.

Existing customers with previously installed v1.3.0.2 (the latest Version of FileScout available in App World before the update)

For customers with a previously installed v.2.3.0.2 of FileScout, App World displays the “run” and the “purchase” options. This is strange because the user has already purchased the application and if you try to re-purchase the application, you get the following message:

“There were problems completing this purchase. Please contact BlackBerry App World customer support. (Error id: 3300)”

These customers are therefore unable to upgrade their application. As a side node: it would be helpful if App World would allow me to directly contact “BlackBerry App World customer support” in this case instead of just displaying a message. Finding customer support contact information can be tricky on the BlackBerry website.

Some Customers have received an update notification…

On day 1 I was receiving emails from customers asking for a registration code. It seemed that some FileScout customers were actually receiving an update notification, but for what ever reason, these users didn’t automatically receive a registration code as promised.

25/04/2010 – Second day

The second day didn’t bring any positive news. More emails from customers were arriving in my inbox and it wasn’t all that easy to give support to these users. As an App World Vendor, you don’t get much information about your actual customers.

26/04/2010– The first reaction from App World Vendor Support

The first response I received from App World Vendor Support did not include any information what would have the potential to improve the situation for my existing customers.

I was at least able to provide the support team with traces and logs that could help to track down the problem for customers receiving the v1.2 binaries in the 1.8 envelope. I am always happy to help but I would have really preferred to see some fixes or at least a work around.

In the meantime, I had to redirect all previous FileScout customers who did not received a registration code from App World once they have updated to the new version, to contact BlackBerry Support and submit a BlackBerry App World Licensing Issue ticket.

28/04/2010 – Starting to troubleshoot

I heard from a user who submitted a BlackBerry App World Licensing Issue ticket the next day and the only feedback was that a ticket had been opened. There was still nothing of value to help the situation.

Helping myself

It began to really frustrate me that App World was delivering v1.2 binaries and telling my customers this is the “new” version, so I decided to try something myself.

Once a version of your app is released with App World, there is no way to delete or modify it. The only thing that can be done is changing the possible/compatible devices. FileScout is compatible with all devices that could run App World, so I modified the compatibility list for the old versions (v1.2 and v1.3). Since the list must have at least one entry, I decided to use the 8100 as the only compatible device. My apologies to all 8100 device owners reading this.

29/04/2010 – More support requests

Several days later I am still receiving support requests. RIM was unable to provide a solution/workaround or at least some information that I could pass to my customers. My workaround of changing device compatibility seemed to be working fairly well, and when I reload my OS and App World, I am delivered the real v.1.8.5 binaries (of course, still no registration code is provided).

30/04/2010 – Customer support from RIM

A customer let me know that he had finally received some feedback from RIM’s customer support. It read as follows:

Hello,?? Thank you for contacting BlackBerry Customer Support.??Go to the “My World” section of App World. Highlight the affected application.?? Hit the “BlackBerry button” (to the left of the trackball)  Click the “view registration key” option.?? A small window will pop up with the registration key. Select “copy”.

Wow. What a useless suggestion. If App World had displayed a registration code, I’m confident every FileScout customer would have seen it.

Conclusion after one week of my App World update adventure

I am speechless. I am really asking myself why I had to pay 200 USD to be able to submit my applications to App World. It would be great if I thought my money was being used to improve App World or the support infrastructure, but I’m not very confident.

03/05/2010 – A long period of frustration

Today I have not yet received any information from App World Vendor Support or any RIM employees, not a single word, which is very disappointing.

The requests from existing FileScout customers has decreased over past days, but I am still spending more time with answering help and support emails concerning App World update issues than I can actually work on updating my applications (with all the financial consequences).

When I download “App World purchase reports” I can see some interesting things.

Something seems to work

For some of my old FileScout customers I can see in the report that they have installed v1.8.5. For these customers, a FileScout registration code is listed in the report as well. After more than one month after the update, some of my existing FileScout customers get a valid registration code delivered automatically by App World once they update to the new version.

After a lot of patience with my BlackBerry device’s App World installation, FileScout is listed as v1.8.5 plus a registration code.

So RIM has sort of kept its promise, but I think I am not the only one that has experienced these issues with updating my application. It’s unacceptable to take over a month of waiting to get your application “fully” updated.

Still long way to go

The “App World purchase report” also reveals, that around 80% of FileScout customers, before the 23rd of April, are still on the old versions v1.2 or v1.3. I can only speculate why this is the case. Either they did not receive an App World update notification (something that I personally never received for FileScout on my device) or they received it but are simply not able or willing to update.

My conclusions/suggestions for all developers who are planning to join App World

Unless you’re someone with a masochistic tendency then I strongly recommend you follow two simple guidelines when you are planning to offer your application as a freemium app in App World:

1) Make sure your application will auto update itself once it has been delivered via App World. If you are required to update your application in App World yourself, it could become something like the above adventure.

2) Make sure that you do not have to change your license model.

Personally, I’m delighted that there are App World alternatives such as Mobihand.