BlackBerry recently announced planned 10.3.1 changes. We all love new things!
However in what appears to be a money saving initiative, BlackBerry announced they are planning to end support for Adobe AIR as soon as 10.3.1 is available. … and downplayed an important detail… they are planning to remove these applications and games from devices – without notifying the users.
Most hardcore BlackBerry developers agree that the SDK is dated and needs an exit strategy. BlackBerry however, decided to take this to the next step, and will actively block user access to any applications created in Adobe AIR using the 10.3.1 or higher release of their operating system. Apps and Games that users have installed will be removed automatically upon upgrading and any of these applications in BlackBerry world (or side-loading) will be immediately inaccessible.
What does this mean to you? BlackBerry will remove the bulk of FileArchiveHaven’s applications (228 total – where approximately 80 have active users) from user devices the moment they upgrade to 10.3.1. And I don’t have enough time to rewrite more than 1 or 2 of these applications.
What Can Users Do? (to Prevent the Removal of AIR?)
“Asking developers to completely rewrite applications is extremely dangerous at this stage.”
As a user, you are welcome to tweet the folks behind the change, you can try to email developer relations and simply say “Don’t take AIR applications away from BlackBerry”, or even send developers like me digital hugs and encouragement. But this was our mistake for supporting a company that is financially challenged and that has a history of putting developers last. They have no intention of backing out the plans to kill AIR support and they have stopped responding to developer questions online.
Update: In fact, since writing this article, BlackBerry has announced they no longer want games and applications for the average person created for their devices. Instead they have advised anything non-enterprise should be built for Android and brought over as an Android application.
Why are they Killing these Applications?
A group of developers have been practically begging Tim Neil (Blackberry – Director, Application Platform & Tools Product Management) and Mark Sohm (BlackBerry – Senior Developer and Lead Community Support) to answer questions on the BlackBerry Support Forums (where we were sent to ask questions). They have so far refused to answer this (or really any) question.
- Update: They finally responded after hundreds of requests for information … to the absolute bare minimum effort they could by adding a couple of bullet points to a buried FAQ list.
“What we do know, is that this decision is driven by money. No company wants to remove top selling applications and to make things difficult on developers.”
Adobe AIR requires licensing fees every year. The most likely cause of this issue is that BlackBerry cannot (or does not want to) pay for the AIR licensing going forward. I imagine they also would very much like to let go of their AIR developers, AIR developer support websites, and to stop paying for AIR software development. However, these costs are supposed to be recouped by the 30% fee they charge developers.
The last possibility I can think of is to either stop the building of applications for BlackBerry devices while pushing users to Android. Or to bully and strong-arm developers into using BlackBerry’s own personal IDE and hybrid language and markup called Cascades.
- Update: This is exactly what happened, they were trying to push developers to writing for the Android Amazon App Store and allowing Amazon to make the applications available as Android ports (eww).
What we do know, is that this decision is driven by money. No company wants to remove top selling applications and to make things difficult on developers.
How Long do we Have?
“BlackBerry’s own Tim Neil disclosed that they have been discussing the removal of AIR for over a year now – which means developers could have been warned about using AIR from the very beginning of BlackBerry 10.”
What we do know is that BlackBerry tries to release service packs on 3 month cycles. In addition, we have seen several 10.3 leaks on CrackBerry, and we are assuming AIR applications won’t be pulled until 10.3.1 (although BlackBerry hasn’t exactly been truthful with us in the past).
What this means, is that we could expect 10.3 to release in the next month or two. The target release time for 10.3.1 would then be 3-4 months after. This means that purchased applications may start being pulled from devices in as early as 4 months but more likely to happen in the months following. From a business perspective, we need to have our applications prepared in the next 4-5 months.
- Update: After significant effort from developers applying pressure, they have estimated this change will happen at the end of Q4.
How Many Developers are Impacted?
“But without BlackBerry answering some very tough questions, we can only guess how many developers and applications are impacted.”
Fortunately most developers aren’t impacted by this change, have had negative experiences with AIR, or don’t understand what it means. The few that do understand it, sympathize on the issue, but can do very little to help.
Up until now, BlackBerry defended AIR as a platform. It runs most of the BlackBerry PlayBook operating system, it was used early on for elements such as Settings on the BlackBerry 10 initial release. And has been used as leverage against iOS, Microsoft and Android. AIR encompasses one of 3 officially approved methods to create BlackBerry applications and is the only cross-platform language they support without alteration. In fact, for a long time, AIR was the only option available for programming for the new BlackBerry QNX architecture – meaning the longer the Developer has been focusing on AIR and PlayBook, the more likely they are to be negatively impacted.
How Many FileArchiveHaven Games and Applications are Impacted?
Please note: This will only impact my BlackBerry 10 clients. It will not impact my Android, Windows, iOS, Roku or other users. This is a BlackBerry only, and BlackBerry driven problem. In this regard, we have two impacts from a FileArchiveHaven perspective. We have an impact as an individual entity, and an impact as a continuous number of applications and games.
Applications and Games:
To explain the impact from a developer perspective, below is a count of applications I have impacted broken down by version of Adobe Flash Builder:
“I estimate around 80 of my applications have active users that will be impacted.”
Total AIR Applications and Games available from FileArchiveHaven:
- Flash Builder 4.5 > 39
- Flash Builder 4.6 > 79
- Flash Builder 4.7 > 98
For a total of 216 apps of mine just on this one laptop. This also kills 12 new in-flight projects, 11 applications, BFB Applications and games being updated with service packs. Squinting with one eye shut really tight – I estimate around 80 of those applications and games have real users that use them.
Impacted applications include:
- Secure Browser
- Secure AntiVirus Pro
- HTML Edit & Text Edit
- RPG Quest
- Android Reset Utility
- Night Ports
- Dats a Bingo and many more.
Update: We are almost done re-writing Secure AntiVirus Pro, and Joe from QXS did an amazing job rewriting Night Ports in Cascades.
FileArchiveHaven Impact as an Entity:
“Less cool and new applications and games for you. Less developers working on the platform.”
I am typically a solo-developer who builds for BlackBerry as a hobby in my spare time because I was emotionally connected to the platform. I usually am a strong BlackBerry supporter, and ambassador for the product. And I have been doing this all when I have “a spare moment”. I also happen to have other hobbies including electrical engineering, video games, reading science fiction, writing for Mobile Nations websites and just about everything techy I can get my hands on.
I did bring on 2 developers to help build apps and games, and was planning to do this full time to build up the BlackBerry 10 games and applications. And to give back to a great community! Unfortunately, these changes (both AIR, and BlackBerry pushing small developers to Android) have resulted in me refocusing my efforts elsewhere. It means more apps and games for Non-BlackBerry platforms. And less apps and games on the BlackBerry platform going forward.
What solutions do developers have?
BlackBerry has made two, equally flawed, recommendations.
“Asking developers to completely rewrite games and applications is extremely dangerous at this stage”
BlackBerry has recommend that developers re-write their application to only use Android API’s. Build their application for Android. And then package it as an Android application for use on BlackBerry. This obviously means that the applications will lose Built for BlackBerry status, cannot migrate user data from the old apps to the new ones, and we cannot use BlackBerry API’s.
The other alternative is to rewrite the application completely from the ground up for WebWorks
or Cascades and re-release the the application for BlackBerry.
- Update: The truth here came out a little bit. We were originally told to rewrite our applications in HTML5. The reason they were telling us to do this … is it is easier to port our applications to Android in the future as BlackBerry is no longer interested in small developers using non-Android application bases.
What they seem to fail to realize… is that asking developers to completely rewrite games and applications is extremely dangerous at this stage – especially pushing them to get a taste of Android. With BlackBerry 10 sales significantly lower than promised, developers unsatisfied about the ROI, and other platforms such as iOS, Android and Windows showing great promise without ostracizing developers – this may be the tipping point some developers need.
An additional complication with HTML5 is that applications in HTML5 for BlackBerry can have their source code opened up in any HTML editor and pirated. This is because the source code is unencrypted and can be stolen by anyone when they simply rename and UNZIP the BAR file.
We will lose developers. We will lose applications. And we will see a lot more Android applications on our devices.
With the death of AIR announced, the death of Java in the past, Cascades no longer being viable for small developers, what future is left for BlackBerry Developers? Is now the time we need to all start preparing our exit strategy and building for other (bigger) platforms?