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Next Up – The Internet of Things

Always remember that the future comes one day at a time.  Dean Acheson, American Statesman.

Last Thursday, news broke that I had accepted a new role as the Vice President of QNX Cloud, a new business at QNX (a BlackBerry subsidiary).  As an industry we’re closing in on connecting every phone on the planet — maybe 5 billion in total.  What’s next?  Connecting up all the machines.   QNX Cloud is a business focused on building enabling cloud based technologies for Machine to Machine and Internet of Things businesses.  QNX Cloud is infrastructure that enables a wide range of connected devices (ranging from automobiles to power plants, consumer electronics, and more) to be managed, updated, and remotely monitored.  Our goal is to facilitate so-called “big data” analysis of data coming from these connected devices, and to provide programming interfaces that allow the creation of sophisticated new applications that deliver real business benefit to our customers.

John Chen, writing on Inside BlackBerry, described this move as a “return to his roots”, but I prefer to think of it as a continuation of a path that I have been walking on for most of the past 20 years of my career.  A future that, for twenty years, has been coming “one day at a time”.  QNX Cloud is a developer product, first and foremost.  It’s targeted at networked and embedded devices. To be successful, we’ll need to build an ecosystem, channels to market, and recruit strategic partners.  And because it’s a new initiative, it has many characteristics of a start up.

Wish us luck.

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Last week was a whirlwind for BlackBerry developers.  BlackBerry 10 Jam was the official launch of the BlackBerry 10 platform to the developer community – SDK’s, tools, and of course the BlackBerry 10 Alpha device.

This was a moment we’d been working toward since before DevCon Americas in the fall.  I know there was a lot of pressure to show a phone last fall, but until the SDK’s were ready, and developers could actually use them, there would have been little point.  Instead we steadily built first the PlayBook OS 1.0 SDK, the PlayBook OS 2.0 SDK, and the PlayBook OS 2.0 software release, knowing full well that these releases, accompanied by the over 20,000 playbooks we had seeded into the market, would be a good foundation for the next phase – the actual BlackBerry 10 devices.

The excitement in the air was palpable. Folks started lining up at 7 AM on Wednesday morning to get the first Dev Alpha devices. And by noon, I couldn’t walk the hallways of the show without someone stopping to show me the code they had been working on.

Since then there has been great coverage (checkout the BlackBerry Developer Blog) we’ve been bombarded by requests for Dev Alpha devices from developers who didn’t make the show.  The good news?  We’re going to take the show on the road – so come jam with us in a city near you, and pick up your own Dev Alpha device at the same time.  Check out the BlackBerry Jam Road Show page for more info.

A couple of thank you’s are in order.  Thank you to the developers who came to the BlackBerry 10 Jam last week – you’re investing your energy, time, and money in making not just your own products successful, but ours as well.  Also a very public thank you to all the teams at RIM who have worked for months to pull the BlackBerry 10 Jam off – the developers, product managers, marketing, and of course our very own developer relations group.  Thank you!

Now go code something!  We’ve got a monster of a product to ship together!

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It’s time to hang up the spurs, Alex.

Last Friday, YouMail released their latest visual voice mail client for BlackBerry.  At the same time, they put up a blog post telling the world that this was end of the line for the BlackBerry customers – no new work would be done on BlackBerry.

I thought it a little bizarre.  As publicity stunts go, it was the equivalent of a drive-by-shooting — guaranteed to generate coverage from gawkers and bystanders. And it sure has. It even made CNN!

The basic premise behind the post is wrong, though.  Although BlackBerry has some challenging times ahead during our BlackBerry 10 transition, our developer efforts are booming. Developers are making money on BlackBerry, and last quarter we recruited 14,000 new developers to the platform, and launched 25,000 new apps.

YouMail’s CEO Alex Quilici and I go way back to 2006 when AOL and iotum inked a deal for iotum’s Relevance Engine to connect up with the AIM Phoneline product.  Shortly after AOL canned the AIM Phoneline product, Alex joined YouMail as their CEO.  So, we’re a couple of voice industry veterans, and guys who’ve been in the CEO chair at voice startups.

YouMail’s flagship product, visual voicemail, isn’t a business anymore – it’s a feature that comes on your phone, and it has been that way since Apple first launched the feature in June 2007 on iPhone.  It’s no surprise, either, that YouMail’s business on BlackBerry is declining.  BlackBerry already provides visual voicemail on most of the major US carriers — TMobile, Verizon, and AT&T… and YouMail is a US only business.  Competing with TMo, Verizon and AT&T is tough! And so YouMail, despite some press characterization of the company as a “top app developer”, simply wasn’t a marquee partner for us at RIM.

I know where Alex is coming from, though, and that’s what makes this post especially difficult to write.   Entrepreneurs are passionate about their products, and they believe that they can solve every business issue in front of them.  I know, because I’ve been there.  Sometimes, though, we’re just not super-heroes.

Alex,  one (former) CEO to another, one entrepreneur to another – I think it’s time to hang up the spurs cowboy.   From where I sit, it looks like YouMail needed to pivot five years ago to remain relevant, and you missed the window.

UPDATE:  I just connected with Alex.  We had a good chat, and I sent him a free pass to the the upcoming #bb10jam.  I wish YouMail and Alex the best.

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Chatting with @Scobleizer about RIM

“So, did you see what I wrote?”, he asked?

And that’s how my conversation with @scobleizer started.  I had dropped him a note a couple of weeks ago when our Alex Kinsella and he were having a little dust up on twitter, and suggested we grab some time.  Today was the day.

“Yes, I saw what you wrote.  And I disagree.  There’s no money, Robert, in being just another undifferentiated Android handset.”

“But developers are abandoning BlackBerry, everywhere”, he said.  And when I countered that wasn’t the case, two sell-out developer conferences in Asia and Europe being the evidence, Scoble opined that eventually developers in other parts of the world would do as the developers he knew had.

I believe that if we did nothing, the world would unfold as Robert said.  But we’re not doing nothing. We’re running successful events, seeding devices, and building up evangelism teams across the globe.  No doubt, it’s a fight, but we’re focused on retaining our existing developers and growing our ecosystem.

We’ve got two key weapons in that fight.

Open Standards.  After iOS and Android, the next thing developers are focused on is HTML5, because they’re looking for a solution that will let them target multiple handset vendors, not just one.  RIM has, hands-down, the best implementation of HTML5 in mobile today.  PlayBook OS 2.0 benchmarks better than any other mobile implementation (just point your PlayBook at HTML5Test.com), and better than every desktop browser, except Chrome 16. It also includes WebGL for accelerated 3D graphics, and with WebWorks, we can free HTML5 code from the browser, let you upload it to AppWorld, and turn that HTML5 website into a revenue generating HTML5 application.  How ‘bout them apples?

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For those that really want performance, PlayBook OS and our upcoming BlackBerry 10 OS are POSIX operating systems that you program with C and C++. Another open standard, with over 30 years of code written that’s compliant.   As one blogger recently wrote, Cross Platform Begins With C.

Soon we’ll add our secret sauce – a graphical UX framework called Cascades.  Stay tuned for that!

Open Communities.  One of the things that we’ve worked hard at is to embrace communities of developers.  So, you can build applications on our platforms using Flash, Android, gaming frameworks like Marmalade, Unity, and Shiva3d, open source like Qt, Boost, Cocos2dx, scripting languages like Lua, and so on.  If you’ve got a code base that you’d like to bring to BlackBerry, we want to help.

Open Source, Open Communities, and Open Standards like HTML5, C and C++ running on a POSIX framework.  What’s more mom and apple pie than that?

We finished up by agreeing to chat again at South by Southwest.

It wasn’t my intent to change Scoble’s mind today, but rather to engage in a conversation.  It’s time for us to start a dialog with the Valley, and what better way than by starting with one of the Valley’s most prominent voices?

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Try Something New Today!

I’m in Las Vegas for CES.  I’ve been coming here for industry events for 25 years now.  Yesterday, however, I did something I had never done in all that time.  I rented a car, and drove out of the city to see what else Nevada had to offer besides gambling, hotels, and shows.

An hours drive north led me to the Valley of Fire State Park, where I took in the sunset, and the rising of the moon over Lake Mead to the east.  It was stunning.  I’ll go back there again, just to see the rock formations along the 20 mile scenic route through the park.

So, what does that have to do with anything?

If you’re a mobile developer, I’d encourage you to try something new today.  Take another look at BlackBerry development.  Our HTML 5 development platform, including the WebWorks framework, and the Ripple simulator, are great.  Developing on the Playbook platform is getting easier all the time too, as we bring more open source, and more development partners to the platform.   And there’s a great opportunity in building apps for BlackBerry.

So go ahead.  Give it a shot.  Try something new.

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Anyone who follows my 4Square updates on Twitter will know that I travel a lot.  This week it was a quick jaunt to Waterloo.  Next week, I’ll be in Las Vegas for CES 2012.  In February I’ll be at BlackBerry DevCon Europe in Amsterdam, and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.  And in March, I’ll be taking a short vacation with my wife and kids!

With that in mind, here are the killer travel apps I use on BlackBerry.

The big Kahuna is BlackBerry Travel.  I’ve used other apps in the past, on other mobile devices, but BlackBerry Travel blows them all away.   When you first book a trip, the incoming email from your travel agent triggers the creation of an itinerary on your behalf, that BlackBerry Travel then manages and updates in real time from that point forward.  Forget to book a hotel?  It suggests one.  Gate changes at the airport?  You already know, because Travel knows.  And on arrival at your destination, Travel updates your LinkedIn profile to let folks know that you’ve arrived.  Plus it has local and destination weather updates, points of interest, and more.  Free from RIM.  Alternatively, Tripit is a similar app to BlackBerry Travel – a little less automated, but with more itinerary sharing options.

BlackBerry Traffic is the next.  BlackBerry Traffic is a simple nav system that uses GPS to provide turn by turn directions to your destination.  It finds your destination from an address, and then barks out directions clearly and loudly, taking into account real time traffic information, even when left on the passenger seat.  In fact, it can even message ahead to let others know your time of arrival!   Travel is simpler than a full blown nav, like the brand-name system I paid $70 for on my previous phone, but it gets the job done quickly and efficiently, and the price is right.  Free, from RIM, and BBM enabled so you can easily share it with your friends as well!

For local search, I use Poynt.  Poynt is a local restaurant, event, and shopping guide all rolled into one.  Need to find a restaurant?  Poynt knows.  Tickets to an event?  Poynt knows.  Also free.  Urban Spoon is also available for older BlackBerry’s.

See you next week in Las Vegas!

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Happy New Year!

It’s been kind of a crazy 2011.  As a result of that, this space has been neglected.  Truth be told, it hasn’t been just due to being busy, though.  It has also been due to figuring out the relationship of Saunderslog.com to my new role at RIM.

Last week, Andy Abramson wrote that there used to be more bloggers.  In the early days of the VoIP industry, there was definitely a cabal of sorts – a crew of folks who wrote steadily about stuff that mattered. Often opinionated, often right, sometimes wrong, and always entertaining.   Andy, you’re right.  We need more bloggers again.  And I’m going to make it a New Years resolution to be one of those voices again.

But my voice is going to be a little different.  It’s going to be tempered by the fact that I now represent one of the largest players in the smartphone industry.  Even though this is my personal space, you can’t change the fact of my employment. 

Happy New Year, and see y’all next week in Vegas at CES. 

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What’s in a name? Branding your product.

I stood at the cash at the local Tim Horton’s (a Canadian doughnut chain), and ordered a “combo” – sandwich, coffee, and a doughnut. 

“And which baked good would you like with your lunch, sir?”

Baked good.  Wow!

Questioned, he explained that “baked goods” just seemed an easier and shorter description than enumerating all the possible confections I could order in place of the doughnut with my lunch.

Tim’s sells doughnuts, and plenty of them.  But they also sell other (ahem) “baked goods” such as croissants, pastries, muffins and cookies.  You see, over the years it has evolved from a doughnut shop to a coffee shop, and more recently into a chain of what might best be described as sandwich shops.  My clerk just didn’t want to go through the agro of asking “Would you like a doughnut, muffin, or cookie with your lunch sir?”, because then he would have had to ask the follow on question “Which one?”.

I suspect for most Canadians, however, Tim’s is, and always will be, the corner doughnut shop.  Timbits hockey, a Tim’s coffee at the rink, the working man’s breakfast — that’s their brand.  And that’s why the young guy at the cash surprised me with his casual offer of “baked goods”.

Naming things and creating brands is tough.  You just have to look at the launch of the BlackBerry Jam franchise a couple of weeks ago at our DevCon America’s event.  The brand team worked for months on concepts that would evoke the idea of communications and collaboration which are core to the BlackBerry brand, but still fit the developer ethos.  Personally, I love what they’ve done.  The idea of developers working together in a Jam Session, like musicians, plays perfectly in today’s reality of co-working spaces and hackathons.

Even so, when we started to extend the brand concepts to all of the places we wanted it to go, everyone stumbled over the BlackBerry Jam Recognition Program.  It didn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and it lacked emotional intensity – the connection that has to be made between the value proposition of the brand, and the audience that it’s speaking to.

So internally we started calling the awards “Jammies”.  The rest played out on the stage at DevCon in San Francisco.

Whether you’re selling baked goods, or communications devices, the brand you build needs to connect with your audience.  The best are descriptive, evocative, emotional, and easy to understand. 

Now, anyone for a doughnut?

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Raising a Glass to Steve Jobs –-1955-2011

I’ve just been sitting and chatting with my parents on the phone.

Told them that the first computer I ever laid eyes on was an Apple II.  It was at the CompuMart store at the corner of Roosevelt and Byron in 1978.  We used to head down there after school. The owner, a tolerant guy who didn’t mind a few geeky boys in his store, would let us laboriously type code from the latest issue of Byte Magazine into the one Apple II he had in the shop. And then we’d sit back, type “Run”, and magic would happen.

We loved the Apple II because it had a vector graphics card, unlike the Commodore PET with its clunky peek/poke memory mapped character graphics. And when Apple shipped the Pascal board, we all marvelled at this new language that was so foreign to the Microsoft Basic that we’d been honing our programming chops on.

The Apple II was pure magic, and we were the alchemists and wizards extracting its secrets.

In the words of today’s venture capitalists, 1978 was a pivot year for me.  Until that point in time I was on a path to be a musician or some kind of scientist.  The Apple II opened my eyes to the creative possibilities of the personal computer.

As a coop student at Mitel in the spring of 1983, I had the privilege of seeing a demonstration of the Apple Lisa – a $12,000 machine that was Apple’s first foray into the iconic mouse and pointer idiom that persists today.

I spent the 1990’s working for Apple’s nemesis, Microsoft.  Even there, the Mac faithful endured.  My pal, Jeff Smith, was an enigmatic, Newton-carrying figure.

There was a rough patch in the 90’s.  Apple almost failed, and Microsoft extended $200 million to keep them alive. Ironic, eh? Since 2003, Jobs and Apple have reinvented the music industry, the telephone industry, and the book industry.  Quite the comeback.

For nearly 30 years I’ve lived in a world that has been somehow shaped by this man that many are calling a modern day Da Vinci.

Today, one of the creators of the modern information age and the world where I live, work and play, has passed.

Raise a glass, my friends.  Toast the artist, genius, visionary and human being who was Steve Jobs.  He will be missed.

To a life well lived.

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Photographing SFO with BlackBerry Torch

I’m an enthusiastic amateur photographer.  Part of my enthusiasm comes from being married to an art photographer, and part of it is fascination with the creative process in the digital age. So, I like to think that I might occasionally take a decent photograph (check out my flickr stream).

Last week I was strolling through the SFO International Terminal on my way home after a couple of days at the GigaOm Mobilize Conference, and at the RIM Redwood City offices.  It was late in the day, and the International Terminal was empty – a lull period between the late day flights to Asia, and the redeye flights back to the east coast of North America.

I didn’t have my Nikon DSLR with me, so I snapped the image above with the new BlackBerry Torch 9810.  The BlackBerry is a pretty simple camera, but surprisingly versatile.

This image is actually a composite from 3 images stitched together in Photoshop Elements. I stood at the centerpoint in the image, and slowly rotated left to right snapping images, which I then merged later. The original images are these three (click on any of them if you want to see a larger version):

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IMG-20110927-00030

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All three images are quite noisy.  Noise, in photography, refers to chromatic or pixel distortion that occurs when the picture is taken.  It’s a very common problem with snapshot cameras, especially in low light, and my BlackBerry is no exception.

On my first attempt to stitch the photographs together, I noticed clearly visible bands as a result of the first photograph being quite a bit noisier than the second.  So, I used PictureCode’s Noise Ninja filter to clean it up.  Here’s an enlarged before and after from a section of the terrazzo floor in the first photo so you can see the difference.  The noise reduction removes some detail, but it also gets rid of the graininess of the original.

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Next I used Photoshop Elements “merge panorama” tool to create the composite image.  Now, there are a number of settings you can use on this tool.

If you use the defaults, you’ll get an image like this:

image

There isn’t a lot of usable photograph in this merge, however.  So I generally add the “remove vignette” and “correct geometric distortion” settings which results in an image like this:

image

The corrected image has much more usable picture in it than the uncorrected image.  Plus, I like the slightly curved distortion that it has introduced into the photo.  It gives the impression that it was taken with a wide angle lens.

After that, the remaining adjustments I made included:

  • brightening the image by about 20%
  • adding a warming filter.  Elements has a feature that allows you to imitate the effect of an old-skool glass filter, and in this case I chose an 81B, which compensates for the bluish cast of fluorescent lighting.
  • bumping saturation by 10%.

Then I straightened, cropped, and uploaded.

And this was the final result (click on it to see a larger version).  It turned out pretty well, and more than a few people have been surprised that it was taken with a BlackBerry.

SFO 3 copy

So next time you’re wandering around without your SLR, and you see something interesting, just snap it.  You won’t be disappointed.  You can take great pictures with a camera that’s as simple and easy to use as the one in my BlackBerry.

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