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Developers In Motion : How RIM & Blackberry Are Becoming Increasingly Irrelevant

Mike Kirkup, who he is and why should you be reading about him? Well, up until this Tuesday (30th August), Mike was senior director of global developer relations for Research in Motion. His resignation is significant as it only goes on to demonstrate the issues that RIM, maker of BlackBerry, is having attracting developers to their platform. As has been shown by Apple and Google, in the era of smartphones and tablets, only those who have developers on side will thrive.

BlackBerry has been through the mill recently. While they are continuing to sell millions of handsets, they are losing favour with the enterprise market and business users who seek to do more than just e-mail and BBM on the go. Now more than ever, developers focused on BlackBerry are stuck with not many options. A new version of the OS is due out next year, but without Mike in charge, the baton will have to fall elsewhere, making it unclear as to whether the new OS is on track.

With the BlackBerry PlayBook, RIM has tried to address this issue by announcing that Android apps will run on the hardware, but as a developer this makes me nervous. Android is well known for its fragmentation issues. Trying to get the same app to run in the same way across a multitude of screen types, keyboard layouts, chipsets and Android versions is hard enough. Add running those apps on a totally different OS and the issue worsens. While many apps may run and look similar to their Android counterparts, the user experience is likely to be terrible.

Since starting an app development company two years ago, one thing has become abundantly clear. Finding developers who want to develop for BlackBerry is like finding a needle in a haystack. Apple and Google have made mobile development not only potentially lucrative, but also attractive. If you look at the advertising that surrounds these platforms, very little hinges on the features of the devices. It is all about the apps and the things you can do.

This year has taught those of us in the industry to expect the unexpected. Just think about Nokia dropping Meego and Symbian in favour of Windows Phone. Let us not also forget about HP dropping the recently re-launched webOS platform in addition to its entire hardware division. These remind us that no matter your size, if you don’t adapt, you risk falling behind.

BlackBerry's time as a hardware and OS maker could well be up, unless of course they manage to tempt developers back to their platform. Making Android apps run on its platform could be an early indicator of the company's intention to switch OS completely. Only time will tell.