Thursday, 25 October 2012

Blogging from a Dev Alpha

This is my first post written from a BlackBerry Dev Alpha. It is definitely an amazing experience! The browser works great with Google and the predictive typing makes it fairly easy and fast to type things in. I am hooked into my home WiFi network and using the phone in portrait mode.

The compatibility is similar to the PlayBook as far as the browser is concerned. I have been working away on my app and making steady progress and I'm excited to see it coming together. The biggest challenge was to convert my user-interface from jQuery to bbUI.js. However, now that I have started to use the bbUI.js framework it really is making my WebWorks app look like it was made specifically for the Blackberry 10.

I look forward to sharing more about this on my blog and also any progress made with using the Marmalade SDK in making my native C coded Playbook app. RIM has made it a real pleasure to write apps for their platform due to the amazing developer support they are providing as well as hardware for testing and for developers to keep as an incentive.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Blackberry 10 Dev Alpha

I recently began porting my app to Blackberry 10 and had some issues on my computer with the simulator and Ripple Emulator. I have worked out a few more bugs, but really needed an actual working device to test out my app and debug it fully. Thankfully, the amazing people at RIM lent me a Blackberry 10 Dev Alpha device for development purposes.

The Dev Alpha arrived with the older BB10 OS installed which appears very much like the Playbook OS, with only a couple of apps (a browser and camera). I proceeded to update to the latest BB10 developer OS which had many more apps including AppWorld, BBM, Calendar, Contacts, an improved Camera app and more. It was nice to see a bunch of BB10 Apps from various developers already included in AppWorld, some in test mode and some fully-finished for sale. I downloaded a few to check them out, and there are some really cool ones.

Regarding my own app, one of the jumps I have been meaning to take is to convert from using jQuery to bbUI.js. The interface looks very polished on the bbUI.js and is probably optimized to run very well on BB devices. While my app works with jQuery, the look doesn't fit as well and it is a bit slow. Some of the pop-up lists don't fit well and it can be hard to format things on the screen properly. If all of this is "Greek" to you, it basically means that both of these tools let you easily implement nice modern user-interfaces (buttons, dialogs, lists, sliders, etc). However, bbUI.js was designed to match the look and feel of the Blackberry 10 OS and so to make things consistent with other apps and to help users avoid confusion, using a standard user-interface (UI) is beneficial. Companies like Apple have really pushed this idea on iOS, which explains why many of the apps on your iPhone and iPad have the same "look and feel".

I am definitely excited about Blackberry 10, now more than ever. Although I already fell in love with the Playbook, seeing it's evolution in the BB10 OS (which should also make it's way to the Playbook in time) is a real eye-opener. Many people are upset about waiting for BB10 to come out, but I believe we need to give RIM the time to make BB10 a perfect 10. If it means a few more months, it is better to have as flawless and bugless an OS as possible. All of the critics will be watching, and we don't want to give them any fodder for their articles!

I hope now that many people who have phone contracts expiring in the next few months will choose to hang on to their current devices, avoid locking into a new contract and proceed on a monthly basis until BB10 comes out. At least give Blackberry 10 a try, you won't regret it. However, you may regret locking into a new phone and missing out on a wonderful new mobile platform coming in early 2013!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Does Price Matter?

Rumours have it that Apple is about to ship their latest tablet offering... The iPad mini. Even though previously Steve Jobs apparently hated the idea, Apple has seen a bulk of the market going to cheaper and smaller tablet offerings in the 7" space like the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, Blackberry Playbook and many other $200-range affordable tablets.

For people who are loyally married to the iOS Apple ecosystem, they have had only 2 choices as far as screen size goes... iPhone/iPod touich 4" size and the iPad 10" size. So a 7" iPad is precisely in the middle of the devices. The question remains... will Apple sell millions of these things and why would people buy it?

Price leaks have already occured and it looks like the iPad mini will have to fall somewhere between the $299 iPod touch and $499 iPad. That means $399. But will this device pack in the same retina display, camera resolution and starting base memory size as the other devices? The other tablets in this size are all in the $200 range, about half the cost! If true, then Apple will make a profit and people may still buy the 7" tablet to save a few bucks yet still pay a hefty premium to secure their place in Apple's walled-garden ecosystem.

There is also speculation that the iPad mini may be made cheaper, at the expense of specs like memory and camera resolution. However, it is unlikely to be priced below $300, lest Apple start taking hits to its profit margins. Remember Google and Amazon have stated that they have been selling their tablets at cost because they plan on recouping money later on in-tablet purchases from their respective app and content stores.

And so here lies the big question. Will Apple switch around from their previous premium pricing history which made them huge profits, or will they sell the iPad mini at cost to bring more people into it's ecosystem and make money from the increase in iTunes purchases?

I see no reason why Apple would lower the price. They are dominating and will still sell millions of iPad minis despite their higher cost. However, millions of people are willing to pay a premium to be in Apple's ecosystem.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

First Signs of Apple Crumbling

Over the past few years we have seen Apple take a huge bite out of the mobile and portable entertainment market (not to mention their dominance of the tablet space with the iPad). Apple has amassed a growing number of adoring fans, as well as billions in profit. With each new quarter, and each product launch (amid much hype and media coverage) it seemed as if the Apple train was speeding up and gaining a momentum that would be impossible to stop.

Now, for the first time in recent memory, there are some preliminary signs that Apple's fantasy ride is slowing down. As with any rise, there must be a leveling-off, and then a fall. I am not suggesting that Apple is falling apart, just that it is going to need to face reality again. Apple may be a victim of its own success and marketing hype engine. At every launch, Apple fans have come to expect miraculous new features. Given the fast rate that Apple has released new products, and the slower pace of true mind-blowing technological innovation, it was innevitable that Apple would hit a wall. Couple that with increasing expectations from users, and it is easy to predict that Apple's past performance would be unsustainable.

The most critical reports are not from Apple competitors, but Apple fanboys themselves. "The Apple Byte" show on CNet, usually enamoured by anything Apple related, recently pointed out some of the major misses with the new iPhone and other disappointments with iOS 6. Still, a few healthy criticisms doesn't put a dent into Apple's userbase fanaticism, but does bring Apple back down to reality... a reality of a highly competitive and inter-connected sector that is ready to eat Apple at any opportunity, and users that have an opportunity every few years to switch to another phone ecosystem or upgrade to a new tablet.

There are other signs, however, that not all is perfect. The late Steve Jobs was a well-respected figure-head for Apple who brought an almost cult-like following to the company. The new leadership is still profiting on his legacy, but it will eventually run out. They will have to begin relying on their own ideas.

The iPhone 5 was the best product launch ever in terms of numbers sold. However, it is not without flaws. All devices have issues. Complaints about the new Lightning connector backwards compatability problems, iOS 6 Apple Maps, slow WiFi connections, slow data on some carriers, brightness-level not working, and other problems populated the Apple fan-site forums after launch.

The furthest-reaching but minor problem, however, happens to be a quality control issue resulting in scratches and chips found on brand new unboxed iPhones coming straight from the factory. This has resulted in increasing pressure on Foxconn employees which apparently resulted in a strike and some violence on the assembly line in China. Although Foxconn denies the strike occurred (presumably to avoid giving any other employees an idea or to deny any bad press) it did make headlines.

The big story here is not the few minor cosmetic imperfections from the factory or a scratch-prone case, but that the Chinese factory strike brought attention once again to issues of worker treatment and it adds another negative newstory to a number of others already circulating about the latest product from Apple. This is a reality check for Apple that despite their amazing past accomplishments, impressions can quickly turn.

There is no doubt that the iPhone is a great device and Apple will continue to do well in the foreseeable future with release of the iPad mini, the Apple TV and other devices. There is still plenty of room for innovation using today's technologies... Some of which have already found their way into competitor's phones. People will want to continue to use their iOS apps and live happily in the iTunes universe, guaranteeing upgrade paths for Apple for a long time yet, even if each successive iPhone release is less and less interesting.