GDC, mobile games and changing developer perceptions with RIM’s Adam Stanley + Alex Kinsella

Here’s part two of our interview with Alex Kinsella and Adam Stanley from RIM’s Developer Relations team. In part one, we discussed RIM’s support for HTML5 and WebGL, and the future of the BlackBerry WebWorks platform on BlackBerry 10. Make sure to check it out!

UNTETHER: So what you’ve said so far is very impressive, but I’m wondering how much… this is a two part question. How much of the HMTL5 compliance you’ve built into the BlackBerry platform really effects developers, and how much it is kind of just “my benchmark is bigger than yours?” Because in talking with developers, from their perspective, it seems as though while the scores are great, a lot of the points are earned for kind of things that developers won’t use on the daily. Their biggest concern seem to be how faithfully the CSS gets rendered, how quickly the browser draws, and those kind of advance graphical elements. And from their prospective they look at the iPhone and the iPad as winning because of their hardware acceleration. Now, you’ve said that the PlayBook has added that hardware acceleration or at least greatly improved upon it with OS 2.0, so I’m just wondering how you feel you compare at that level? My second question relates to what you’re then doing to change the perception among developers that the power, or the capacity, or the capabilities available on the BlackBerry platform are comparable to competitors or go beyond just a score.

Adam Stanley: So developer concerns about having a good quality web platform with excellent support for the standards that they care about is also our concern. We want to make sure when they do come to the BlackBerry web platform they don’t have to compromise on anything. And the way that we’re tackling that is through directly and correctly supporting these standards. I think that the 2.0 tablet OS release, which effectively switched on hardware acceleration support in the browser, in some ways is exceeding the results and scores of some of the other platforms out there. There’s a great example that I blogged about called the ‘The GUIMark3 Test‘, which has basically a performance test page where its drawing an HTML5 canvas with a cool sort of ’80s video graphic splashing across it. It’s essentially throwing a lot of performance at the browser and seeing how well it performs in terms of frame rate. When I load it up on PlayBook OS 2.0 it’s getting about forty to forty-one frames per second, which the fastest I’ve seen of any of the other devices that have been scored on the test. So it’s definitely an achievement that we’re quite proud of and we’re going to continue to approve upon. So it’s certainly going to get better.

UNTETHER: So now how do you go about evangelizing to them that reality, and change the current perception? Does something like RIM’s latest push into open source with things like GitHub and just kind of really laying the code bare and supporting the dev communities that already exist play a roll? How do you change people’s minds?

Adam Stanley: Yeah, it’s a very good question that we’re sort of operating on many fronts on. So the Developer Relations team is very active in the web community through a variety of out reach programs. Just all sorts of, you know, HTML5 and HTML5 gaming meet ups, conferences, and communities that we do our best to participate in, sort of as a responsible citizen. We definitely enjoy being part of those communities just in terms of contributing feedback or building partnerships and relationships with the influencers and the industry leaders there.

We’re going where developers are and we’re showing them, ‘here’s what you can do with BlackBerry.’

UNTETHER: So tell me about the reaction you saw then at GDC. Because that was around the same time that the spaceport.io benchmark test was circulating in the media, and the PlayBook wasn’t included. So what happened when you had developers at GDC probably coming up to you an realizing exactly what PlayBook supports?

Alex Kinsella: Yeah. They’d come up and see our native support, our Scoreloop support, our Unity support, our Marmalade support, our HTML5 support, our Flash support, and the price point of the PlayBook and the fact that we have this really vibrant ecosystem of loyal consumers that provides a really great opportunity for game developers. And they had not looked at us before.

UNTETHER: Is it just a matter of just getting in where they’re at, getting in front of their face?

Alex Kinsella: It is. Part of the issue is that… If you look at game developers, they are based globally, but going down to the Valley, being in front of them, and showing them what the platform is capable of, it’s the kind of thing that we’ve been doing, whether it’s our Developer Relations team or our Evangelist team. We’re going where developers are and we’re showing them, ‘here’s what you can do with BlackBerry.’ And it’s changing the tide, changing the discussion, changing the tide of the conversation. So it’s something we’re all really excited about.

Adam Stanley: One success story from the web side of things… There was a WebGL panel and GDC with some influential industry experts sitting on it, and a few of them had the opportunity to meet some of the members of our own WebGL gaming team at this event and it either initiated or continued to grow the professional relationship between those communities. Specifically, there’s a JavaScript library called three.js that makes it easier for developers to build highly graphical WebGL content. So we’re sort of courting that community very closely right now because we definitely want to not only be a part of it and help it be successful, but also ensure that the framework works great on BlackBerry when developers choose to use it to build applications for our platform.

UNTETHER: Are developers surprised right now that RIM has a gaming division? Is it part of that changing tide that Alex spoke to and simply being there to say, “oh yeah, we have a gaming division and you need to speak with these guys who are doing cool things?”

Alex Kinsella: Gaming is very similar to our HTML5 team as well, right? It’s not that we just have a gaming division, we have a division really made up of some of these experts. So if you look at gaming with Sean Paul Taylor, and Anders Jeppsson, and Volker Hirsch, and these are people who have been involved in gaming for a long time, pre-BlackBerry. So they carry a lot of weight in the community and when they talk about things that have to do with gaming, or talk about HTML5, they’re listened to. It reminds me of that old commercial that like said “my father’s a dermatologist” and everybody quiets down. It’s kind of the same thing. But I don’t think Volker’s a dermatologist.

UNTETHER: A gaming dermatologist, a gameatologist.

Adam Stanley: How’s that for a sound bite?

Adam Stanley RIM Developer Relations

UNTETHER: Walk me through your day, then. What is this cycle for making this happen? Because I know that what you guys do on the Developer Relations side supporting developers is very different from what the platform that is produced built by the Browser team that users engage with. What is your split between working with devs and working with the Browser team and how does that feed into itself?

Adam Stanley: So, my day is definitely diversified – that’s probably the best word to use. I wear many hats. Effectively, as a member of Dev Rel, you sort of act as a buffer between external and internal stakeholders, and sort of be a channel and a voice for both parties. I try to always represent the external development community as best I can. Being in places where they are, caring about things that they care about, proactively reaching out and identifying what the latest trends, opinions, and concerns are.

Things like spending time in our online forum or monitoring social channels like Twitter and Facebook, and so on, are great outlets for our development community to provide feedback to us. Also, inviting them to attend events like DevCon, or going to their events or developer meet-ups to get that direct feedback. Then either redirecting it to our internal stakeholders, things like our product management teams, our R&D development groups, or even the higher level decision makers, who may play an important role in making something cool happen. Such as enabling a new technology or focusing attention on fixing something or improving the quality of the experience of something that developers are complaining about.

Often we receive either feature requests or bug reports, and those need to get to the right people in order to be addressed so they do not get lost or just sit collecting dust. So, we certainly do our best to play that important role, but at the same time, proactively reach out to new strategic opportunities. I just wanted to go back to that spaceport.io example. You were right when you said they did not include us in their evaluation, which personally, I was kind of disappointed about. Because we have a great platform that could have been included, that I think, had it been tested, it would have raised attention to a really great web development platform. To that extent, we actually reached out to them at GDC, and extended an invitation to discuss it further and provide either support or feedback, or to work with them in order to get over any hurdles that might have prevented them from including the BlackBerry platform in their review. Because I would really like to see not only what they have to say, but also ensure that if developers are interested in using their framework and their platform, that they can also target BlackBerry.

…there’s a lot of talk about innovation and where BlackBerry sits with innovation, but if you want to be a part of innovation, BlackBerry 10 Jam is the place to do it.

UNTETHER: The final thing that I wanted to ask specific to the WebWorks/HTML5 stuff is what is the difference in either RIM’s approach or the reality for developers for in-browser web content and something like WebWorks, where it’s repackaged as an application and distributed through App World? From both the end-user perspective and the developer realities.

Adam Stanley: The cool thing about the WebWorks platform is that it shares the exact same rendering engine that the browser uses. As a developer, depending on how you wish to target your audience, you can have your users either access your content through the browser or through App World, essentially. So if you wish to use the WebWorks SDK as a way of packing that experience and distributing it out to users and have a home screen presence with your icon and your brand right on the home screen, WebWorks enables you to do that very well.

Where it differentiates itself from the browser is the device-specific integration. The unique WebWorks APIs that only exists within the context of WebWorks applications – things like integrating with the contact list, the calender, messages list and so on – this functionality is sandboxed in the browser for the protection of the user and the device. Because you’re accessing the entire Internet, not just the specific content in the trusted app.

UNTETHER: Yeah, malicious websites and things like that. So if you want something similar to the classic BlackBerry ‘Super App’ capabilities, then WebWorks as a repackaged app is probably the better way to go. But if you’re just looking to serve up, I guess something like what Pressly does, which is rich web content, then the browser is an amenable solution?

Adam Stanley: Yes, I suppose. Think of WebWorks ‘Super HTML5 Apps.’ It’s the same content you get in the browser but extended, and essentially more powerful.

UNTETHER: Do you see any specific splits between devs who are looking to do stuff in browser, and those who want to repackage the app? Is it simply just media companies who want to own their on-domain experience and don’t want to worry about supporting a BlackBerry app, a PlayBook app, an iPhone app and an Android app?

Alex Kinsella: My experience is that some developers use HTML5 web apps which work fine across platforms, whether it’s iOS, Android, Windows Phone and us, and there’s no need to compile a native app. Part of the issue is that a lot of developers and publishers are realizing that even today with a lot of the limited HTML5 app stores that are out there – and I did air quotes around “app” – discovery is still very difficult. People still want an actual compiled app, and that’s what WebWorks offers. The ability to have a native-looking application but powered by our WebKit engine.

UNTETHER: Is there anything else you guys want to say to devs?

Adam Stanley: We definitely want to encourage the devs to check out http://developer.blackberry.com/html5. You’ll be surprised at how good the web platform is on BlackBerry, and discover some of the opportunities that are available to you.

Alex Kinsella: And take a look at BlackBerry 10 Jam. It’s $299, it’s an amazing opportunity to come down there and be a part of something really cool from the beginning. If you look back to the original BlackBerry solution 12 years ago, the crew that was part of that work – you hear their stories and talk to them here in town or around, and it’s kind of cool to see, and one of the things that’s really exciting for a lot of us here, I know especially for me, is that we’re part of the beginning of something new. I know there’s a lot of talk about innovation and where BlackBerry sits with innovation, but if you want to be a part of innovation, BlackBerry 10 Jam is the place to do it. Because they’re going to be the first developers out there with BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha.

Disclosure: I worked at RIM on the Social Media team from 2009-2011 (including Developer Relations Social Media). It was fun.

Note: this interview was edited for clarity, and so I sounded smarter than I am.

About the author

Douglas Soltys

Douglas is the former Editor-In-Chief of Inside BlackBerry, BlackBerry Cool, and QuicklyBored, which he launched as a mobile gaming industry site. His knowledge of mobile and social media led him to a job at RIM (BlackBerry), where he got to travel the world and do lots of cool things. He is often left-handed, but rarely sinister.

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