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Developer: BlackBerry PlayBook apps too costly, too obtuse

updated 07:20 pm EST, Fri February 25, 2011

Open letter argues PlayBook SDK too hostile

An open letter to RIM has given a look into potentially serious problems with the development process for the BlackBerry PlayBook. Jamie Murai noted that the costs of getting involved were far more expensive than with the iPad or Android. The PlayBook will not only cost $200 for most developers but only covers the first 10 apps; users also need to have a full copy of VMware Fusion or another ISO-friendly virtual machine to run the emulator, which could cost another $80.

The complaint also pointed out that many of the processes were unnecessarily complex, even for the improvements the WebWorks SDK was supposed to bring over regular BlackBerry app development. The kit divides the AIR SDK, PlayBook SDK and the emulator into three downloads. Much of the content was provided without documentation and wasn't intuitive even for a developer, Murai said.

Just compiling an app for the emulator was difficult, he explained. In addition to having to create an app archive without instructions, creating a proper app executable needed command line instructions. VMware wouldn't see the app without it being pushed to the virtual machine's private IP address.

Apple and Google skipped many of the hassles: both can effectively compile and run an iPad or Android app in emulation with a single button. The difference was enough to prompt an exit from PlayBook development altogether and an urging for RIM to understand that was losing the support even of people such as Murai, who lives in RIM's Waterloo, Ontario, Canada hometown.

"Being the underdog, you need to make your process AT LEAST as simple as Apple's or Google's, if not more so," he said. "You need to make your tools AT LEAST as good as Apple's or Google's, if not more so. You have failed at both."

The experience is likely to vary from developer to developer but may support the relatively quiet development news for the PlayBook, which has mostly centered on a handful of big-name apps from Amazon and games from EA. RIM nonetheless may be concerned about smaller developers' help and is rumored to be writing in Android app support to fill in the gaps artificially.



By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. que_ball

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Aug 2000

    -1

    Free VMWare player for Windows/Linux

    The only developers who need to pay for VMWare fusion are those who decide to do development on MacOS.

    VMWare has a free player application that anyone developing on Windows or Linux can use. The free player is not licensed for commercial distribution but that means that you cannot package the player in software you are selling. You can use the player all you want even for commercial development as long as the result of your work does not require the customer to be given a copy of vmware player.
    A VMWare rep posted this to clarify commercial use in the player license:
    "Yes, you are able to use Player for your internal company's use. That clause is intended to prohibit the sale or redistribution of VMware Player without permission. I hope that clears this up for you.

    Thank you for contacting VMware Sales Support."
    They have a document that companies can fill out that grants them permission to install the player on company computers. There is no fee for this, they just need you to agree not to distribute the player with your products.
    http://communities.vmware.com/thread/303342?tstart=0


    So if you have a mac, just setup bootcamp and boot into Windows or Linux if you refuse to pay. Also VMWare fusion goes on sale from time to time for about 50% off if you did want to stay in MacOS.

    Basically the problem right now is the development environment isn't currently well integrated with the packaging and simulator environments along with a general lack of documentation. Those are good things to criticize RIM for. But the actual product has not been sold yet and the OS may not even have reached final release status yet. I'm guessing the release date is dictated much more strongly by the software than hardware. I get the sense that the hardware design is ready to go and they just need to finish up the operating system. Do you think RIM really wants to delay release to redesign their development tools at this point in time?

    Developers can post questions on the RIM forums, or if they are signed up for more advanced partner programs they can submit support requests or phone their support and engineering contacts at RIM to clarify issues they may be having until RIM has time to go back and update the tools and documentation.

  1. paulartois

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Feb 2011

    +2

    Not an entire fair blog post by Jamie Murai

    I've read the blog post. There were some fair points:

    1) The $200 charge for 10 apps, if true, does sound a little rich.
    2) Installer for an .iso = dumb.
    3) Multiple sign-ups and notarized identity info... I smell corporate lawyers getting their hands into this stuff. RIM needs to lose some of the suit mentality.

    Other points seem betray the fact that this developer isn't really all that tech-savvy. He complains about a lot of stuff that's trivial or inconsequential to people who do this stuff for a living -- just because things don't fit the way he thinks doesn't mean they're wrong. I guess he's the sort of "artsy" developer referred to in his post, as opposed to some "unix neck beard" type. Fair enough.

    I do think RIM ought to address his concerns though -- it is in RIM's interest to appeal to the broadest base of developers possible. RIM needs to streamline the developer process and listen to its developers.

    But I have to say, I get annoyed at sophomoric rants like this. They are hardly a constructive way of approaching the problem.

  1. Pete Austin

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Feb 2011

    +2

    Jamie Murai has done RIM a huge favor

    @que_ball. You're making it worse!

    Re: "The only developers who need to pay for VMWare fusion are those who decide to do development on MacOS."

    Everyone with experience of tablet apps is targeting the iPad, so the number using MacOS is "only" about 100%.

    Re: "Do you think RIM really wants to delay release to redesign their development tools at this point in time?"

    May not need to. RIM need some 100% accurate, step-by-step documentation for common scenarios, such as installing software on the mac and writing a minimal "Hello World" app. Perhaps 12 pages, ready next Monday. Next they should write some script files for the operations requiring long command-line commands, targetting the recommended development configuration, defaulting all parameters except the project name.

    Re: "if they are signed up for more advanced partner programs they can submit support requests or phone their support and engineering contacts at RIM to clarify issues they may be having until RIM has time to go back and update the tools and documentation."

    Everyone with experience of tablet apps is targeting the iPad, developing on Apple, so the number signed up for RIM partner programs is about 0%..

    @paulartois

    Re; "Other points seem betray the fact that this developer isn't really all that tech-savvy. He complains about a lot of stuff that's trivial or inconsequential to people who do this stuff for a living -- just because things don't fit the way he thinks doesn't mean they're wrong. I guess he's the sort of "artsy" developer referred to in his post, as opposed to some "unix neck beard" type."

    He is an Apple dev, not an "artsy" developer. Probably very talented, but does't know RIM development tools, and doesn't have (or want) contacts at RIM. The problem is that RIM has made no effort to deal with the issue, which will affect about 100% of tablet developers.

    Re: "I get annoyed at sophomoric rants like this".

    I work in marketing and rants are often the best approach. This one has gone viral and RIM will be under a lot of pressure to fix it.

    People buy tablets for the apps. RIM's business is threatened unless it's easy for devs to port their apps across. Jamie Murai has done RIM a huge favor by virtually forcing them to fix the problem.

  1. UmarOMC

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Aug 2001

    -2

    No more RIM...

    I think the BlackBerry Bold 9700s my wife and myself got as part of renewing our contract with T-Mobile will be our last RIM products. There's a lot of good stuff about it, but enough to annoy the c®åp out of the both of us. I don't get how APple has enough pull to control their own OS releases but RIM has no say over what the provider wishes to release!? Oh, if we want OS 6.x we'd have to get 9780s!

    My arse! Goodbye, RIM. At least they're better than Palm whom I wish had gone completely to the grave...

  1. Tyrael

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Feb 2011

    0

    As a Playbook developer, let me clear some things

    Currently, the $200 cost is waived, (and it is my understanding that it applies to anyone who registers right now). Additionally, the article mentions how a $200 payment only covers 10 apps, which is normally true. However, submitting an app right now doesn't count as one of the 10 credits RIMM starts a developer with. (Let me remind you that they are giving you UNLIMITED submissions right now, and another free 10 after their current promotion ends). Second, as mentioned above, I don't think their are very many people who have paid for their VMware products. Contrary to Pete Austin's belief, there are a lot of developers (including myself) who don't use MacOS, or can figure out how to boot using Windows instead.

    Next, the process is NOT complex. I am 15 years old. I haven't programmed anything before, although I read a C+ book about it once. Within a week of finding this promotion, I had learned AS3 and had an app prepared that was accepted by RIMM. There is documentation on setting up all of the necessary development tools, and it was enough for me, (a 15-year-old), to get things working. Compiling apps is not difficult. There is documentation that explains how to do so, and it doesn't require more than a minute or two to setup, after which all you need to do is hit Ctrl+F11 to compile and launch the app. Finding the IP address that is mentioned in the article takes about 3 seconds of your time. It is a non-issue.

    Finally, to make things even more simple, a support forum is set up to help developers out. I have never posted an issue there that wasn't solved within a few hours. I don't think the developer mentioned in the article tried very hard to develop for the Playbook, because RIMM makes it extremely obvious that this forum is the best way to solve any issues. They could have undoubtedly assisted the developer by pointing out the documentation RIMM provides that he apparently missed.

    Once again, I would like to point out that I'm 15 without any programming experience, and the development process was still seemingly simple.

    Not to mention, the article skips over the single best reason (in my opinion) to develop for the Playbook - You get a FREE PLAYBOOK if your app is accepted, (which nearly all are, unless they crash or are ridden with bugs).

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