BBM Hackathon NYC: Interview with Tyler Lessard About BBM, Developers and More

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BBM hackathon

We’re here at the BBM Hackathon in NYC and we sat down with RIM’s VP of Developer Relations and BlackBerry Alliances, Tyler Lessard. The problem with interviewing people at RIM is they’re obviously not going to tell you anything that hasn’t already been announced, and the best you can hope for is “yes, we’re working on it” or “it’s something we’re driving towards.” Even if you ask a random question like “what’s your favorite app?” you can be sure the answer at a BBM Hackathon will be “BBM”. We did get a few tidbits of information that we haven’t heard before so it’s worth clicking through for the interview.

[Note: answers are generally paraphrased unless there's quotes]

Q: What was the impetus for the BBM Social Platform?

Generally, RIM has been working on building the Super Apps platform as a fully integrated app experience is a core advantage of the BlackBerry Platform. Developers really enjoy the fact that apps can talk to native PIM applications and building BBM integration was a natural progression of the platform.

Q: This is version 1.0 of the BBM Social Platform, how do you see the platform evolving?

The current APIs aim to enhance the BBM experience as well as the app experience. RIM will continue to help both of these experiences evolve and one particular way they’ll do this is using Groups to help augment the app and BBM experience. Groups are a very popular feature in BBM and there are many ways that RIM can help developers leverage Groups to enhance their apps.

Q: What is RIM doing to help those BlackBerry users that are less technically inclined?

Getting users to update is a challenge and RIM has taken steps to make sure that the latest devices ship with the most recent software. For example, BlackBerry 7 ships with BBM 6 and users will be able to take advantage of the latest apps right out of the box. RIM is constantly looking to new ways to make the entire user experience more seamless and building checks so that if users aren’t on the latest versions, they’ll get prompts when needed.

Q: RIM is currently in a transition phase right now, can you speak to how the platform will evolve towards QNX? Will developers making BlackBerry 7 apps be left in the dark when QNX comes out?

RIM’s message to developers is that BlackBerry 7 has a significant life span. The company has already announced 5 devices that will have BlackBerry 7 and carriers are excited about these devices. (At this point I comment about how there aren’t that many more BlackBerry 6 devices and we’ve heard that BB 6 users spend the most on paid apps. So a BlackBerry 7 only app is still a viable business and it helps that BB 6 apps are forward compatible.)

Tyler also talked about how this transition involves developing the tablet OS and bringing that down to a high-end smartphone. (I ask Tyler about how we’ve heard that the tablet OS will have support for legacy apps, and whether it’s safe to assume that the smartphone version of the tablet OS will also have support for legacy apps). Tyler wouldn’t comment on the specifics of whether the QNX smartphone would have support for legacy apps but did say that RIM’s stance is that even without QNX, BlackBerry 7 apps will have a significant lifespan on the BlackBerry platform. He wouldn’t comment on what “significant” meant exactly.

Q: App World has seen a lot of success and is continually being updated. What else can we expect? Are affiliate programs in the works?

“It’s something we’re driving towards” says Tyler. He wouldn’t comment on any specifics but gave the impression that it’s something RIM has been looking at and it’s in the roadmap. (At this point we talk about how App World is growing as the single source of apps, and yet there’s still carrier stores on devices. Why is that?) Tyler pointed out that carrier stores are at the discretion of the carrier and while some are choosing to drop the store in favor of App World, it’s not a bad thing to have more choice.

Q: RIM has been in a negative spotlight lately in the media and it seems like they can do no right. Any speculation on the negative media attention?

Tyler didn’t seem interested in commenting because any speculation may add to the negative attention but did mention that he knows many users would probably have liked to see the BlackBerry 7 devices sooner.

Q: We’ve seen the acquisitions of Tiny Hippo and Ripple, as well as ScoreLoop, how do these acquisitions speak to the evolution of the developer tools?

RIM is putting a lot of dollars and commitment to web tools and HTML5 support. With Tiny Hippo and Ripple, we’ll start to see a lot of developers from many different coding backgrounds heading to the BlackBerry platform as the company provides more tools and support for them to code their apps in a familiar language and bring it to the platform. The overall strategy seems to be that RIM will support a variety of code bases and eventually provide a single, all-encompassing set of developer tools to make everything is in one place and is cross-platform. RIM understands that developers don’t want to have to get their tools from multiple places and that having everything under one roof with access to all the features of the BlackBerry platform is the ultimate goal.

Q: Will themes continue to be supported through BlackBerry 7 and QNX?

Themes follow a pretty standard schedule of waiting for the devices to be released, letting the final version of the software take shape and then working on the theme tools. Themes will continue to be a feature of BlackBerry 7 and theme developers can look forward to a Theme Builder that will support OS 7. (I asked if themes would be a part of the tablet and QNX OS and Tyler wouldn’t comment.)