BlackBerry Developer Conference Wrap Up: Developer Challenge Winner 7digital

Dev Con

There was so much going on at the BlackBerry® Developer Conference last week that it was impossible to cover it all during our daily wrap ups. This week we’re playing catch up and posting BlackBerry Developer Conference content that was too good to miss.

For example, I had the opportunity to attend the great COM05 “Lessons Learned – Building the 7digitalMusic Store” session led by James Shannon of DevelopIQ. This was a can’t miss session because DevelopIQ had just won the BlackBerry Partner Fund Developer Challenge for their work on the 7digital BlackBerry app. Read my interview with James about his session, winning the Developer Challenge and BlackBerry development.

What were the key takeaways you wanted developers to walk away with from your session?

I felt the key takeaways were really broken into two areas – technical and operational. From a technical perspective, I wanted to get across that a compelling consumer user experience is not just about an appealing UI, but also the optimization of the ‘invisible’ factors – from bandwidth optimization, content pre-loading and caching through to efficient ways to paint the UI and selective use of background threads. Also, that the BlackBerry® platform offers developers many powerful device integration APIs that really transform the user experience – for instance in our case, Bluetooth® audio streaming and integrated media key support. From an operational perspective the key takeaways were to use analytics to better understand your users and their usage patterns as well as providing comprehensive in-app support, with the aim to resolve every support query on the first reply.

What are your thoughts on winning the BlackBerry Partner Fund Developer Challenge?

It’s clearly an honor and great kudos for our development/QA team. However, I think the greatest benefit will be the effect on the profile of music on BlackBerry® smartphones. A clear message needs to be broadcast that the BlackBerry smartphone is a platform that can take mobile music to the next level. We have a great ecosystem of music applications that provide everything from identification through discovery to advanced playback features, and we now have a music store hub that glues all of these together to provide a user experience that offers so much more than other mobile platforms.

Describe some of the unique considerations for making music available on mobile devices.

As an mp3 download store and advanced media player, the 7digital application’s top priority is to maintain the optimum performance of a user’s BlackBerry smartphone – whether it’s by ensuring we’re playing music in the background in a memory & battery efficient manner, or allowing the user to make an impulse purchase, perform a quick download on the carrier network and then automatically replace it with high quality media when they return to Wi-Fi®. We therefore spent considerable time optimizing the download user experience and ensuring we were delivering and playing media in the most memory and battery efficient manner.

Is platform fragmentation a challenge?

Fragmentation is the challenge of mobile. How do device manufacturers innovate whilst providing a consistent platform and form factor for developers to create compelling applications? I actually think RIM does a pretty good job here – we have robust forward compatibility, powerful pre-processor support and device simulators that provide realistic performance when it comes to development and testing. We made a decision to support BlackBerry OS 4.6 and higher, which reduced our challenge to a certain extent. We also needed to take various screen resolutions into account, as well as display rotation. We took the approach from day one to abstract many of the layout/display size factors from the application logic itself, thereby making the application easier to maintain as new devices are launched and new display sizes require supporting – this made it significantly easier.

In what ways will the new BlackBerry services or platform enhancements announced at the BlackBerry Developer Conference help you moving forward?

The new in-app purchasing and advertising APIs are huge. It’s been well proven that a free application can lead to greater downstream revenues than paid-for applications since it removes so much of the initial barrier in acquiring the user. It also offers consumers choice and application developers recurring revenues, since modular applications may be easily offered that allow users to incrementally purchase features or content over time. I think OpenGL ES support was also an exciting milestone for the BlackBerry platform.

What else would you like to see?

Robust support for shared libraries on the BlackBerry platform would create better options for inter-application integration, another opportunity for developers to commercialize or open-source their work as well as allowing larger developers to create common libraries shared between several of their applications – thereby saving the end user memory on their devices.

You placed an emphasis upon analytics in your session… Why do you feel it’s so important?

Analytics are critical to mobile consumer applications. With limited screen real estate, multiple carriers, regions and device models, it’s important to understand where and how your application is being used. It allows product management to make feature prioritization and user interface enhancements based on concrete data, and allows you to measure the impact of various marketing strategies on your application usage.

Talk to me about pre-processing and why you’re a proponent…

Pre-processing allows us to support multiple BlackBerry OS builds/APIs from a single codeline. This was important for us since the majority of variances between the builds were largely either to support additional hardware features (like media keys) or the BlackBerry® Storm™ touch-screen interface. There are other good strategies for multiple OS support, but these approaches weren’t really justified or appropriate in our case.

What’s the future of the 7digital app?

Our vision for 7digital is to become the hub of music on BlackBerry – whether it’s acting as the purchase & download gateway for radio or streaming apps, offering the user location-based recommendations for their favorite band’s local tour dates, or integrating your music preferences with your social network. You’ll be seeing several updated releases over the next few months, each integrating feedback from our growing user community and adding additional compelling features.

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