Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween, everyone. You can celebrate Halloween on your BlackBerry this year with the free Jack-O-Lantern app, available for all touchscreen BlackBerrys.

This app allows you to change the Jack-O-Lantern’s face by swiping in different designs for the eyes, nose and mouth from the left and the right. Also, you can change the back lighting of the design by clicking on the screen.

Links & Information

The BlackBerry Store

Little known fact is that BlackBerry actually does have a few stores. Ok, technically run by a third party called Wireless Giant, but something I had no clue about. Returning from DevCon last week, I passed by one in the Newark Airport and was completely shocked. The store itself had BlackBerry posters everywhere and was 100% dedicated to selling just BlackBerry phones and accessories.

After asking on Twitter, Alex Kinsella mentioned that the Philadelphia Airport has one as well. While the store was pretty cool to see, I have to admit that I am a little confused on its value to RIM. I would assume that the main benefit to having a brick and mortar BlackBerry store is so customers have a place to go for help and support. Placing the store inside of an airport terminal makes that pretty much impossible. Still the store had a good number of people in it, and I honestly don’t understand the business model of most of these in-airport stores.

The limited monetary loss due to an outage

I have to admit to be thoroughly confused by the class action lawsuits against RIM due to the service outage earlier this month. While the disruption in the EMEA region was significant, in North America, the outage only lasted at most 6 hours, and personally my device was disconnected for maybe two. While outages do suck, I am not sure what people expect to get from RIM. With most data plans costing only $30/month, six hours of downtime would justify a refund of $0.25. At the end of the day, twenty-five cents is not worth the paperwork.

Recap of DevCon

If you read my DevCon expectations you will notice that they are very different from what was actually announced. In short everything that was not directly BBX related was ignored at the event, so no announcements about BBM 6.0.1 or the 9380 Curve.

Things talked about at DevCon

  • PlayBook OS 2.0
    Released only as a developer beta. Actual release has been pushed till next February which is a huge disappointment.
  • Android Apps
    Unless they can get the apps out of the ‘Android Player’ and allow them to run like native apps, this is going to be a disappointing aspect of some BBX apps.
  • NDK
    Was officially released as expected
  • AIR 3.0
    Included as part of OS 2.0 however native extensions actually work on AIR 2.0 and OS 1.0.7 so devs do not need to wait for that aspect of the SDK
  • Cascades
    The only real announcement at DevCon, the Cascades UI from TAT looks like a joy to use. It should make great UI easy to create, and runs very fast. The beta will be available in November, with version 1.0 going live in March.

Things confirmed dead (by omission)

  • BB Java
    It has been pretty obvious for awhile that RIM was going to take this approach, but it is still pretty disappointing. You can’t even really give RIM credit for finally being honest about this because for the most part they confirmation came more from what they didn’t say then from what they did.
  • 3G/LTE PlayBooks
    I still think that we will see these eventually, but not until after the next hardware refresh. They are not yet confirmed dead, but at this point RIM has really passed up their chance to release them. It would have been much better if the company had been up front about this from the beginning.

Thoughts on PlayBook 2.0

I should start by pointing out that I expected version 2.0 to be rolled out to everyone by the end of DevCon, and am extremely disappointed that it did not happen. OS updates have not exactly been coming every two weeks like it looked like early after release, and the most recent update is about two months old at this point.

Still RIM did release a developer beta of the update, and it is worth taking a look at that. This is a true beta so there are many apps not included, and there are issues with Bridge but I think it is safe to ignore those things for now. The changes on the OS level are actually pretty limited, and include an overhaul of the homescreen, support for Android Java apps, and AIR 3.0.

The new homescreen is pretty nice, and most usefully now includes folders. Creating folders is pretty awesome one you figure out how to do it, but discovering how to do so is not that intuitive. Most of the other changes relate to an increased preview size for apps in the card view, which I think is just a result of the designers trying to figure out how to make BBX look decent on a phone sizes screen.

Android support is nice, but all of the apps launch in a single ‘Android player’ which means that they multitask differently, and are not quite true first level applications. Unless this is fixed, I think that many users will be disappointed by Android apps on BBX.

Most disappointing is what 2.0 has still not added. Mainly spell check/auto completion. Since launch, Docs to go has included a spell check, and some autocompletion (at least double space for a period) and it is completely unclear why this is not available for all text on a system wide level. More then any other feature this is the one that I really need.

The power of an open email

Last week during the keynote at BlackBerry DevCon Alec Saunders posted his email address (alec.saunders@rim.com) on the screen and asked developers to email him. As a result he is “blown away by the passion and dedication” of those that emailed him. Really all he did to get this great feedback was to post his email.

I think the main reason that many others don’t do this is that they are afraid that they will be overwhelmed with email. Over the first few days Alec reported that he had received over 225 emails, while that is a big number it is not an amount that is unmanageable. Furthermore as director of developer relations this is what he should be doing anyhow.

One of RIM’s larger issues, communications wise, is that developers too often feel that their emails go into a “black hole”. While some departments at RIM are better then others it would be nice if more of them followed this policy of posting open emails.

On a related note, if you would like to talk to the head of a much smaller company, my email address is eric@ebscer.com

Xploding Boxes version 2.1 released

Xploding Boxes has been updated to version 2.1 in BlackBerry AppWorld. This version adds 15 new levels, adds BBM profile boxes, and improves navigation on the level selection screen.

About Xploding Boxes

Xploding Boxes is a strategy game for BlackBerry where the goal of the game is to start a chain reaction that will explode all of the boxes on the screen. Each level gives you a different number of touches, and requires a different strategy to solve. The first 25 levels are free, while the full 230 levels can be accessed by making an in-application payment and requiring no further downloads. This game is available for both the PlayBook, and for most smartphones running OS 5.0 or higher.

Improved level selection screen

When launching the game, the level selection screen now automatically starts with the last level played pre-selected. This allows you to restart the game where you left off, and get you back to playing the actual game quicker. Also you can use the keyboard short cuts ‘T’ & ‘B’ to quickly navigate to the top and bottom of the level selection screen.

BBM Profile Box

This version of Xploding Boxes, also allow you to attach a box to the bottom of your BlackBerry Messenger profile, to show off your success in the game. This feature requires that you have BBM version 6.0.1 installed, and that you check the box to allow Xploding Boxes to “Post recent activities to my profile”. There is a direct link to these BBM options from the Xploding Boxes options page, in order to make this checkbox easier to find.

Links & Information

Expectations for DevCon

Ideally, RIM will find a way to surprise me at DevCon, but this will be tricky to do given how many things are already expected to be announced. My expectations for the event are as follows:

Things I highly expect to see at DevCon

  • PlayBook OS 2.0
    The new OS for the PlayBook will be released including support for many new features mentioned below.
  • Android App Support
    Java apps compiled against Android OS 2.3
  • AIR 3.0
  • NDK release
    Support for native c code, and apps through services like Marmalade

  • Release of the 9380 Curve
    This device will probably not be available in North America, but if RIM can get the price on this low enough, this could be an extremely important phone.
  • Release of the 9790 Bold
    I have no idea why RIM is releasing this device, it is too unique to be easy for devs to support, but not unique enough to have a market. I really hope that AT&T doesn’t think this is a replacement for the 9900.
  • BBM 6.0.1
    This has been in beta since late August, and is required in order to support the new BBM SDK 1.2
  • BlackBerry Tag
    Officially already announced, but I expect RIM to push this NFC concept during the event
  • PlayBook video store

Things that may or may not be announced

  • Python support
    RIM has been talking about this language a good amount, but have not said anything publicly yet.
  • BBAS for AIR
    BlackBerry needs to offer a good ad service for apps designed for the PlayBook in AIR, or else they are limiting the opportunity that devs have to offer free apps
  • LTE PlayBooks
    Originally promised for last summer, it is not clear if these devices will ever be released
  • BBM on PlayBook
    This may be dependent upon QNX getting support for BIS and BES which may not happen until the OS is on phones (in 2012)

The importance of the PlayBook

Overall sales of the BlackBerry PlayBook have been a bit disappointing. However that does not imply that it is a device that should be ignored. Support for this tablet was added to Version 2.0 of Xploding Boxes in mid September. Bolstered by having a spot in the top 25 free apps (peaked at #8, currently at #22), and by being featured in the carrousel, the game got a good amount of downloads on the device. More importantly though is that it significantly outperformed the BlackBerry phones when it came to users upgrading to the full version of the game. Over the past month, the PlayBook accounted for 5.13% of all downloads of Xploding Boxes, and 9.55% of all purchases of the app. So while the PlayBook makes up a relatively small part of the BlackBerry market, when it comes to purchases, the PlayBook outperforms its market share by almost a factor of two.

The minimal advantages of localization

Version 2.0 of Xploding Boxes added support for Spanish, so now almost a month later I figured that it would be worth a look to see how much of an improvement (if any) that this additional feature had on customer adoption of the product.

These first two charts show the break down by language for downloads, and purchases of version 1.6 of Xploding Boxes from July 23rd through September 8th. At this point Xploding Boxes was only available in English. None of the languages in the “other” category are close in size to Spanish, for a more detailed look at the languages in the first chart see this post from early September.

While English is by far the most dominant language for downloads, it is even more dominant when it comes to purchases of the full game. While part of this is probably due to correlations between language and income (and payment options), I supposed that part of it was also due to the game requiring you to play (and upgrade) in English.

So support for Spanish was added to version 2.0 of the game. The below chart shows the break down by language for downloads, and purchases of version 2.0 of Xploding Boxes from September 16th, through October 13th.

Despite expectations that support for Spanish would result in more downloads and purchases by those who speak the language, the data actually shows the trend going the other way. One possible explanation for this is that version 2.0 also added support for the BlackBerry Tablet, which has seen most of its sales in English speaking countries. However given how few tablets have been sold this does not explain away the lack of growth from Spanish users. As such the only conclusion that I can come to is that the benefits of localization are minimal.

How to enable Profile Boxes using BBM SDK 1.2

In the original version of the BBM SDK it was a real pain for users to have to tweak the settings in order to enable apps to create profile boxes. Version 1.2 of the SDK still requires some work from the user but makes things a little better by allowing you to directly launch to screen where this needs to be edited. The code for doing so is as follows:

UiApplication.getUiApplication().invokeAndWait(new Runnable()
public void run()
if(platformContext.getSettingsManager().getSetting( SettingsManager.SETTING_PROFILE_BOX ) == SettingsManager.VALUE_DISABLED)
Dialog d = new Dialog(Dialog.D_OK,"In order to enable BBM Profile Boxes please check \"Post recent activities to my profile\" on the next screen", 0, null, 0 );
catch(Exception e){}

This code assumes that platformContext is the name of your already created and registered BBMPlatformContext object. This code uses a check so, the user does not see anything if this feature is already enabled. The UiApplication invokeAndWait wrapper is required, as an exception will be thrown if this code is not run on a UI thread. Also note that this code requires v1.2 of the BBM SDK, and therefore version 6.0.1 of BBM.

Stats show a large increase in use of OS 6 and 7

Boosted by a single month 5% increase in the use of OS7, and a 2% increase in the use of OS6, the percentage of users with a minimum OS of 5.0 has exceed 90% for the first time. Meanwhile the use of OS 7 is up to 7.7% after just two months, while last year it took OS6 4 months just to get to 7.2%.

This data was taken from downloads of the popular BlackBerry strategy game Pixelated. Data shown on the chart is from the beginning of September 2010 through the end of September 2011.