Why more developers are defecting from BlackBerry

Jason Ankeny
There's a saying that one is an accident, two is a coincidence and three is a trend, and by that logic, the BlackBerry developer exodus is officially on. A week after Twitter client maker Seesmic announced plans to halt support for its BlackBerry app on June 30, two other developers--Mobile Roadie and Purple Forge--told Bloomberg they're moving on as well. "You have to put your resources where the growth is," Seesmic CEO Loic Le Meur said in an interview. "It's coming down to the explosive growth of the iPhone and the Android operating systems." It's also about the challenges and costs of developing for BlackBerry devices, according to Purple Forge CEO Brian Hurley: "As soon as RIM brought in a touchscreen and mixed it with a thumbwheel, a keyboard and shortcut keys, it made it really difficult and expensive to develop across devices," Hurley said. "What Apple scored big on is having a touchscreen and a button, and that's it."

As many developers know, BlackBerry device owners also consume far less data each month than other smartphone users. Earlier this month, research firm Nielsen reported that the average Android device owner consumes 582 MB of data each month, leading all other American smartphone users as of the first quarter of 2011. iPhone owners are next at 492 MB, followed by Windows Phone 7 at 317 MB and Windows Mobile at 174 MB, with BlackBerry bringing up the rear at 127 MB. "When we put an application in the field, there was a 20- to-1 difference between Apple and BlackBerry downloads," Hurley told Bloomberg. Mobile Roadie CEO Michael Schneider added that fewer than 2 percent of BlackBerry users interacted with its fan engagement applications, compared with more than 50 percent of iPhone and Android users. "At the end of the day, I even felt like developing for BlackBerry could be hurting our reputation," Schneider said.

BlackBerry isn't only falling behind in the consumer segment--its longstanding dominance in the enterprise is eroding as well. BlackBerry remains the mobile device of choice in corporate America, with adoption in 72 percent of U.S. companies, according to a new survey conducted by Strategy Analytics. But Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) are catching up fast: Strategy Analytics reports that 49 percent of enterprises now support iOS, and 42 percent support Android. In addition, an average of 11 percent of employee-owned devices (a.k.a. Bring-Your-Own-Devices) are reimbursed by U.S. business owners. "The exponential growth in enterprise support for iOS and Android suggests that Apple and Android devices and supporting ecosystems are gaining credibility in their own right as corporate standard-issue with appropriate levels of IT support," Strategy Analytics' Director of Wireless Enterprise Strategies Andrew Brown said in a statement. "Nevertheless, IT policy management remains a challenge, suggesting a major opportunity for mobile device and application management solutions."

It's no wonder that investors and advisors are calling for BlackBerry manufacturer Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) to shake up its executive structure. Glass Lewis & Co., Institutional Shareholder Services and billionaire RIM investor Stephen Jarislowsky are lobbying shareholders to support a proposal to split the roles of chief executive officer and chairman--Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis currently share co-CEO and co-chairmen duties. RIM stock has plummeted 52 percent this year, and its "financial underperformance strengthens the idea that the separation" is a necessary step, ISS said in a statement emailed Monday. Egan-Jones Ratings Co., which provides proxy services and ratings, recommends that RIM reject the split, stating: "We do not believe that implementing the proposal would justify the administrative costs and efforts, nor would it provide a corresponding meaningful benefit to the company's shareholders." But it's clear RIM needs to do something--and the longer the company and its shareholders deliberate on a plan, the more developers are going to stop investing their time and resources in the BlackBerry platform. --Jason