November OS usage as seen by Hockey Scores

The OS usage rates seen by the free Hockey Scores application is almost identical to the rates recently published by RIM.

The Hockey Scores application does not support OS 4.5 with most of this percentage being absorbed by OS 4.6.x instead. The other values of 1.7% for OS 4.7.X and 75.5% for OS 5.0 and higher are extremely close to the numbers the RIM published.

The additional statistic that can be seen here, that is not shown in RIM’s numbers is the breakdown of OS6 and OS5 devices. OS 6 is currently on about 1 in 3 devices running OS 5 or higher, and about a quarter of devices over all. Given that these numbers are already a bit dated, and RIM’s push of OS6 on in market devices has been slow, it is reasonable to believe that the OS 6 adoption numbers have the potential to be much better. It is reasonable to assume, that OS 6 will be on half the devices on the market within a month of it being pushed on current devices and the 93xx by all carriers.

RIM publishes rates of OS use

RIM has published some guidance on BlackBerry OS versions in use that show very similar results to what I have seen from our internal numbers for applications like Pixelated.

The charts show that downloads on devices running an OS pre-4.5 is non-existent, and explains why even RIM choose to stop supporting these with version 2.0 of AppWorld. Version 4.5 itself has little use, consisting of just 4% of free applications, and 3% of paid applications. Most of these users are running the once popular BlackBerry Curve 8330, which has finally fallen out of favor, and consists of too many people who still haven’t downloaded AppWorld. These low numbers help confirm the decision to not support OS 4.5 for any of our applications.

OS 4.6.x remains fairly popular mostly due to the Curve 8520 which continued to ship with a default OS of 4.6.1 even well after OS 5.0 was released. Now that the 8520 has been replaced by the 9300 this number will continue to fall. The use of OS 4.7.x is almost non-existent, which follows what we have seen with OS 5.0 upgrade rates with the Storm 1 and the Tour seeing the vast majority of users upgrade to OS 5.0, which as I pointed out in early November makes supporting a minimum OS of 5.0 very acceptable for touchscreen devices.

With 75% of users of free applications and 86% of users of paid applications on OS 5.0 or higher, this level of support is quickly becoming good enough. Our two applications requiring a minimum of OS 5.0 are Twinkle and Liar’s Dice, both which are doing well (even if OS 5.0 wasn’t as universal supported during the mid-summer when Twinkle was first launched).

The one thing that is not shown on these charts is the use of OS 6 (which is instead bundled with OS 5 as OS 5+). While it is still too early to be launching applications that require a minimum OS of 6.0 it feels too much like this is just RIM trying to cover up their embarrassingly slow rollout of the update to existing devices.

Text input modal dialog for BlackBerry PlayBook

The BlackBerry PlayBook has a BaseDialog class for generating modal dialogs, but does not allow developers to extend it for their own purposes. This leaves the PlayBook without a modal dialog for asking a question and receiving a response. As such I wrote one myself below, that as a parameter on the constructor, takes the name of the function responsible for removing this child, and working with the result.

import qnx.ui.core.UIComponent
import flash.display.Graphics
import flash.text.TextField
import flash.text.TextFormat
import flash.text.TextFormatAlign
import qnx.ui.text.TextInput
import qnx.ui.buttons.LabelButton

public class InputDialog extends UIComponent
public var inputText:TextInput = new TextInput();

public function InputDialog(exitFunction:Function)
width = 1024
height = 600

var myFormat:TextFormat = new TextFormat()
myFormat.color = 0x000000
myFormat.size = 32
myFormat.align = "center"

var titleText:TextField = new TextField()
titleText.text = "Title"
titleText.width = 500
titleText.x = 260
titleText.y = 200

myFormat.size = 22
var instText:TextField = new TextField()
instText.text = "instructions"
instText.width = titleText.width
instText.x = titleText.x
instText.y = 245

inputText.width = 240
inputText.x = 392
inputText.y = 277
inputText.height = 40
inputText.prompt = "Prompt Text"

var doneButton:LabelButton = new LabelButton()
doneButton.label = "Done"
doneButton.x = inputText.x
doneButton.y = 330
doneButton.width = 240
doneButton.height = 45

override protected function draw():void
var g:Graphics = graphics;

This code was earlier posted on the Developer Forums. It should be noted, that this approach has a slightly different look then the native modal dialogs, and unlike the native dialogs, will not prevent the application from being closed or minimized.

Where is BB OS 6? (still looking)

Three months (a quarter year) ago, I wrote about the slow rollout of OS 6.0 on existing BlackBerrys. Most of what I said then is still relevant now.

Research in Motion launched their newest BlackBerry operating system (version 6.0) with the release of the BlackBerry Torch 9800 on August 12th. At the time they promised that the OS update was coming soon to some other devices such as the BlackBerry Bold 9700 and 9650.

The end result is that as a developer all of the new features and APIs that OS6 offers will go unused. There are alot of cool options in the new operating system, but the vast majority of users are unable to use them.

From Universal Search, to the Webkit based browser, to more mundane things like the ActivityIndicatorView API, there are plenty of advantages of upgrading to OS 6.0, and RIM is denying their customers the opportunity to have the best possible experience if they take so long to pass these upgrades along. The webkit browser was first showed off on the 9700 over 10 months ago, it should not take that long for features to get from the developers to the general public.

Twinkle updated to version 2.1

Twinkle, which was named a Regional Selections Winner in the 2010 BlackBerry Super Apps Challenge, has now been updated to version 2.1 in BlackBerry AppWorld. The new version of Twinkle adds the ability to make events reoccurring on either a weekly, or monthly basis. Additionally the update includes a few bug fixes, and builds on the new features of the recently released version 2.0.

About Twinkle

Twinkle is a simple application that allows you to set and keep track of upcoming and past events. Twinkle will tell you how far away an event is, and allows you to send events to and from your BlackBerry’s native calendar. Twinkle gives you the ability to add and edit events, lets you keep track of how soon something is, or how long it has been since an event.

Reoccurring Events

New in version 2.1 is the ability to set events to reoccur on a weekly or yearly basis. This is done by simply selecting a checkbox on the event creation or edit screen. This will cause the event to automatically reschedule itself after its occurs. Besides this it acts just like any other event, with only the next occurrence of it being shown in Twinkle.

Links & Information

RIM should partner more with Amazon

The biggest tech companies (Google, Microsoft, and Apple) all have their own smartphone OS’s to worry about. The largest tech company without its own smartphone platform is Amazon, and therefore RIM should do everything they can to make sure that their products work well with Amazon’s services. While many think of Amazon more as a merchant then as a tech company, Amazon has significant marketshare in cloud computing, and dominates the eBook market.

The relationship between between RIM, and Amazon is actually in pretty good shape. Amazon announced that they would release a Kindle application for the PlayBook within minutes of the announcement of the device. In many ways this was mostly a reaction to the demonstration of a Kobo application on the PlayBook, but it still shows a commitment by Amazon to the BlackBerry Platform.

More significantly Amazon recently launched a mp3 store for BlackBerry devices. The fact that this application was first announced on an official RIM blog shows that there was some work done together within the two companies in order to put this application together. Furthermore the fact that there is a developer toolkit coming for this store, also adds some direct benefit to the BlackBerry platform as a whole.

It is in RIM’s best interest to keep working with innovative tech companies like Amazon (and Adobe), because Google and Microsoft are going to continue developing for their own platforms first.

Call-A-Human BlackBerry Application updated

The Call-A-Human application has been updated to version 1.1 in order to add more listings, and update some current ones. The application allows you to easily call straight to a customer service person at hundreds of companies. The application also includes a built in search field, and integrates with universal search on BlackBerry devices running OS6. The original post has more on the application, including a speed comparison.

New in Version 1.1

Version 1.1 of Call-A-Human some listings were updated, while additional listings were added (most of which were banks). Also for devices with touchscreens, the application now automatically dismisses the virtual keyboard when it is not needed.

Links & Information

Pixelated on the PlayBook

The things that make Pixelated a great game is that, each round is quick to play, the game doesn’t require a high resolution screen, and that it has a very small file size. None of these advantage really make that much sense on a tablet, where you can’t quickly pull the device out of your pocket, the screen has all the resolution you will even need, and plenty of space to store your files. Regardless, there will be a version of Pixelated on the BlackBerry PlayBook.

Version 2.0 of Twinkle released

Twinkle, which was named a Regional Selections Winner in the 2010 BlackBerry Super Apps Challenge, has now been updated to version 2.0 in BlackBerry AppWorld. The new version of Twinkle includes the ability to import events into Twinkle from the Calendar, integrate with Universal Search, and navigate through the application with keyboard shortcuts. Additionally the update includes a few bug fixes, and the option to use yellow as a background colour.

About Twinkle

Twinkle is a simple application that allows you to set and keep track of upcoming and past events. Twinkle will tell you how far away an event is, and allow you to add it to your BlackBerry’s calendar. Twinkle gives you the ability to add and edit events, lets you keep track of how soon something is, or how long it has been.

Import Events from Calendar

While it has always been possible to send a copy of new Twinkle events to the calendar, in Version 2.0 it is now possible to import existing Calendar events to Twinkle. This is done by adding a menu option to the calendar, and is demonstrated in the video below.

Integration with Universal Search

On BlackBerry devices running OS6, Twinkle will now integrate with Universal Search. The titles of the events will be searchable at any time, and will allow you to open up Twinkle straight to that event.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Also new in this version are keyboard shortcuts, for all full-qwerty BlackBerry devices. ‘e’ and ‘enter’ both open up the currently selected event for editing. ‘c’ allows you to create a new event. ‘n’ moves the selection to the next event, while ‘p’ moves the selection to the previous event.

Device support

Twinkle supports all BlackBerry devices running OS 5.0 or higher. This includes the 8330, 8350i, 8520, 8530, 8900, 8910, 9000, 9100, 9105, 9300, 9330, 9500, 9520, 9530, 9550, 9630, 9650, 9670, 9700, 9780, and 9800.

Links & Information

PlayBook GUI fragmentation

When I was first learning C#, the book I was reading encouraged a “look like Windows” approach to GUI design. The idea was that people were already used to seeing Microsoft’s software, and if your application functioned in the same way, it would be lessen the learning curve for new users. I have used a similar “look like RIM” approach in designing applications for BlackBerry. Whenever possible the use of native buttons, titlebars, dropdown menus, and dialogs have been used. This insures that the interface is familiar, and that it fits the look of the device.

The BlackBerry PlayBook is going to have difficulty showing a native look and feel in most of its applications. The main reason being the many different approaches to developing for it. For Flex alone, interfaces can be built using QNX components, native flash components, flash mobile components, completely custom done, or from one of many available libraries. Additionally the look of applications from WebWorks, and the native SDK will have differences as well.

From a technical standpoint this is not really a problem, as all of these approaches will work, and result in applications that are pretty similar. In the end however, it is best for most users if PlayBook applications were able to gain a more cohesive look and feel.

Free or Paid? BlackBerry AppWorld adds in app payments with version 2.1

RIM is currently in the process of rolling out version 2.1 of BlackBerry AppWorld. The main two features are support for the BlackBerry PlayBook, and in application payments. For version 2.0 the backend was rolled out about two months before the update was available on devices. Assuming a similar delay this time would put the rollout of version 2.1 just before February and the release of the BlackBerry PlayBook.

In App payments however represent a different economy then BlackBerry currently has. While there will continue to be many clear cut cases, there is a lot of ambiguity over if some applications will be considered free or paid. This additional payment options blurs the lines a bit.

Consider for example an game in which the first 10 levels are free, but you need to make an in-app payment in order to access the next 40 levels. In essence, this would be a demo and a paid application. However given that it is a single app, it is a bit harder to quantify. On one hand, the application can be downloaded without any payment, so it may be considered to be free. At the same time the heart of the game is a paid application.

How would BlackBerry AppWorld handle such an application? There is no upfront cost, but saying that it is free creates false expectations. Those expectations are what makes such options difficult for developers. If someone were to download a game expecting it to be free, they would feel tricked if they later found out that they were required to pay in order to play most of it. With pricing soon to be more complex then a simple dollar value, it becomes more important for developers to clearly lay out the expectations for their applications.

Surprising usefulness of the BlackBerry Torch’s TrackPad

Among BlackBerry users I am a bit unique in that I have always primarily used a Touchscreen device, starting with the Storm 9530. So when it was leaked that the BlackBerry Torch would have both a touch screen and a trackpad, I was concerned over how to handle this on the development side, and confused as to why a trackpad would be wanted along with the touchscreen. Handling the duel inputs on the development side turned out to be rather simple, but the why stuck around a bit longer.

However after using the Torch more and more, the trackpad gets used a surprisingly often amount of the time. While the obvious advantage is in cursor selection, using the trackpad to navigate around the homescreen, or through menus is surprisingly good. It may seem silly to use the trackpad, when there is a touchscreen right there, but more often then not it is more natural, and more convenient to reach for the trackpad instead.

The best analogy would be how in Windows it is often easier to tab through fields instead of using the mouse. In the same way having the option of using the trackpad makes simple navigation quicker then just the touchscreen on its own. An input mechanism that first looked unnecessary, instead makes the whole experience better.

OS 5.0 upgrade rates continue to be mixed

Adoption of OS 5.0 has increased since last looked at in late summer, but still remains a bit mixed, with upgrades more common in some devices then others. Upgrades to OS 5.0 have been near universal on the Storm 9530, and Tour 9630, but still remain well under 50% for the 8520, 8900, and 9000 models. Given that OS 5.0 has been out for a full year for most devices, it seems unlikely that there will be much further movement with these numbers.

DeviceOS 4.XOS 5.0

This data comes from mid-November downloads of Pixelated, the second most popular game in BlackBerry AppWorld.

New Call-A-Human BlackBerry Application

New today in BlackBerry AppWorld, is our Call-A-Human application. The application contains listings for hundreds of companies, and allows you to easily call in to their customer service personnel. The application also includes a built in search field, and integrates with universal search on BlackBerry devices running OS6.

More then just making the toll free numbers for these corporations easily available, the Call-A-Human application, will navigate itself through the phone menus to get you talking with an actual human as quickly as possible.

Speed Comparison

Below is a representative sampling of companies along with the time in seconds that it takes to get transferred to a representative by going through the phone menu, and by using this application. The final column shows (as a percentage) the increase in efficiency that is gained by using this application. Additional time saved by not needing to look up and enter the phone numbers is not included in the below charts, but represents another way that using the Call-A-Human application can save you time.

CorporationPhone MenuCall-A-HumanEfficiency
American Eagle4414214%
Mutual of Omaha311782%
Norwegian Cruise Line3211191%
Time Warner Cable6026131%
US Bank6218244%

The in these nine examples show improvements in time to transfer from 82% to 871% by allowing the Call-A-Human to work through the automated phone menus, instead of doing it yourself.

Of course many people know that one way to make the system work faster for you is to repeatedly hit zero. While this is usually an improvement over manually going through the menu, making use of the Call-A-Human application is still more efficient. Time for the same Corporations are listed below including the time in seconds to get through by repeatedly hitting zero, and the efficiency improvement seen by the application over the traditional way of dialing, and the zero stategy

CorporationPhone MenuZero StrategyCall-A HumanEfficiency (menu)Efficiency (zero)
American Eagle441714214%21%
Mutual of Omaha31181782%6%
Norwegian Cruise Line321111191%0%
Time Warner Cable603626131%38%
US Bank624018244%122%

Two listings should stand out in the above chart. The first is that the time for the zero strategy for Norwegian Cruise Lines is the same as for using the Call-A-Human application. This is because, in this instance, dialing zero is the best approach and actually what the application is doing here behind the scenes. The second listing to note is WalMart, who instead of speeding up the process will actually hang up on you if you use the zero strategy when calling their line.

Universal Search integration

On BlackBerry devices running OS6 such as the 9800, 9670, and 9780, the Call-A-Human application integrates with the device’s Universal Search. For these devices there is no need to ever even launch the application, instead you can just start typing, and then select the company that you want to call from the search results.

Device Support

The Call-A-Human application requires a minimum operating system of 4.6 and supports most devices that meet that requirement. The full list of supported BlackBerry models are the 8350i, 8520, 8530, 8900, 9000, 9100, 9105, 9300, 9330, 9500, 9520, 9530, 9550, 9630, 9650, 9670, 9700, 9780, and 9800.

Links & Information

9105 still the more popular Pearl

Using the plethora of data that comes from the popular free game Pixelated, a look at the trends of BlackBerry Pearl users from late October showed the 9105 outselling the 9100 almost two to one. Additional data from November and the second half of October, shows no significant change in these numbers. The less keyed 9105 continues to hold onto around two-thirds of the BlackBerry Pearl market.

The release of the Pearl 3G on AT&T in the US appears to have had no significant impact on these numbers. Which is a result the appears to reflect more on the weakness of the Pearl form factor, more than anything else.