POLITICS

RIM zeroes in on app developers as it pushes ahead with new operating system

06/21/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 08/20/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Even as BlackBerry maker Research In Motion faces what's certainly the most difficult period in the company's history, its executives haven't lost their sense of humour.

A whirlwind summer tour to entice software developers took a hilarious turn Thursday as the lights dimmed in a hotel conference room and several of the company's development team appeared on screen singing a parody of Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker's "The Waiting."

"The waiting is the hardest part. BlackBerry 10 will be state-of-the-art," the executives sang in the mock music video.

"But the waiting is the hardest part."

That sentiment could be echoed throughout the tech industry as investors, analysts and consumers keep their eye on the Waterloo, Ont.-based company. RIM has tumbled from grace over the past two years with remarkable speed, but is trying to prove a newfound agility while preparing the debut of its long-awaited new smartphones sometime later this year.

The pseudo-rock band parody marked the start of the day-long BlackBerry 10 Jam showcase, designed to convince the tech industry's creative types that the BlackBerry is still a cutting-edge device with a promising future.

The event races across North America in the coming weeks before heading to Europe, Asia and Latin America later this summer. Another Canadian stop is scheduled for July 11 in Montreal.

If all goes according to RIM's plan, developers will buy into the company's new operating system and help turn its BlackBerry App World store into something that rivals Apple's iTunes app selection.

But RIM will also have to convince its purists that change is good, as the first of its new line of smartphones set to debut later this year won't include a physical keyboard.

Company spokeswoman Rebecca Freiburger said a physical keyboard model will be available later, but the first BlackBerry 10 device will have a touch-screen keyboard.

For several years, the company has been criticized for neglecting its app store, even when both Apple and Android devices were racing forward with a wide array of add-ons that ranged from popular games like Angry Birds to more practical assistants that helped file taxes and change TV channels.

If RIM is able to get more developers onside before the launch of its new devices, it will be further ammunition in its defence against a rush competition expected later this year, with expectations that a new Apple iPhone will debut along with an array of updated Android phones.

However, changing the minds of developers around the world is a task that literally will take the company months, if not longer. The BlackBerry Jam tour, which began this month, stretches into August.

"We're at the point where we are encouraging developers to be building those great applications for the BlackBerry 10 ecosystem," said Martyn Mallick, RIM’s vice-president of global alliances and business development, in an interview.

"The big thing I hope they gain...is an excitement about the platform, a resurgence."

If online reaction is any sign, then RIM is making a convincing argument for some developers, who tweeted optimistic reactions to the company's leaders as they presented on stage.

"There's a lot of change in how they're treating (us)," said Rory Craig-Barnes, a developer who attended the conference to showcase his RocketApp, a program that brings real-time user data to local public transit.

"In the past it has been a lot of 'My way or the highway.' I've seen a huge shift."

Craig-Barnes said other developers he's talked to are equally excited about the new BlackBerry operating system, but noted RIM's future still remains uncertain.

Some analysts have suggested that RIM's fate is sealed, and that the company will eventually be sold off either as a whole or in parts.

The company recently began the grim task of cutting jobs in a bid to save $1 billion by the end of its 2013 financial year.

RIM, which has not provided specific numbers regarding the cuts, is expected to deliver a business update when it reports its first-quarter results next Thursday.