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Hello from BlackBerry’s Rome event

Hello from the BlackBerry EMEA Alliance Summit in Rome!

Yesterday morning, I got out of bed at 5am and headed for Heathrow’s dull Terminal 4. I was surprised to find the terminal looking rather modern, new and shiny just like Terminal 5. I couldn’t get a BA flight so I opted for an efficient Alitalia flight to Rome.

I bumped into the team from Shazam when I arrived in Rome. They’ve just launched Shazam Red and they’ve got some more news that I’ll hopefully capture on camera when we meet tomorrow.

Some helpful staff from BlackBerry Italy met us at the airport and transported us through the historic city of Rome to the hotel for the event.

BlackBerry are fast developing a reputation as one of the most responsive and committed device manufacturer when it comes to developers. The company has always had a successful partnership programme (known as the “BlackBerry Alliance” programme) but historically, the partners have often tended to be large companies or companies specialising in a particular niche (e.g. medical records management). At the various BlackBerry partner events I’ve attended over the years, it was rare to meet any consumer-related mobile developers, especially since the devices were almost exclusively business-centric.

Fast forward to 2009 and — well, what a change! With BlackBerry’s ever increasing consumer-focus along with the fast evolving mobile applications segment of the industry, the BlackBerry Alliance programme is going from strength to strength. It’s fascinating contrasting BlackBerry with other mobile device manufacturers who are having substantial challenges opening up their internal operations to external developers. Walk the floor at a BlackBerry event such as this Alliance one or the recent Developer Connection event and you’ll find BlackBerry team members all over the place, keen to introduce themselves, keen to find out how they can best support you.

It’s not just at the events level either. If you’re looking for assistance or perspective, you’ll get it — and quickly — from the person best placed to assist. I was surprised by Mike Kirkup, BlackBerry’s Director of Developer Relations — in the interview I did with him, he gave his email address on screen, commenting that although he’ll do his best to point anyone in the right direction.

That level of openness, obsession and understanding of developer challenges is going to be really, really difficult for other device manufacturers to replicate. That outlook, that genuine excitement, that willingness to help and advise at every stage of the development process, is getting a fantastic response from developers.

I’ll give you an example from one of the developers I spoke to last night. The chap was telling me that they’d created a product and sent it out to market with one of their biggest customers. All was good until BlackBerry produced a planned revision of some software — which unexpectedly caused a conflict with this developer’s implementation — threatening to halt business for months. A quick call by the developer to his BlackBerry Alliance contact — and, woosh — the issue was identified, addressed, resolved and then upgraded within days. Result? One very, very happy Alliance Partner, a delighted end-customer and — of course — yet more guaranteed BES revenue for BlackBerry.

Walking the halls and interviewing the Alliance members, it’s clear to me that BlackBerry — perhaps more than any other device manufacturer — really, really gets the fact that developers are critical to the company’s success. I do mean critical. It’s too easy to forget that — like Apple — BlackBerry controls not just the device hardware, the operating system, the application layer, the whole shebang. But of course, BlackBerry has also installed its systems into the mobile operator’s data centres. That additional level of connectivity is already manifesting new levels of benefit to mobile developers in the form of (for example) operator billing via App World.

It’s also clear that as one of the fastest growing companies in the space (according to Forbes) BlackBerry is super-serious about dominating the marketplace. They recognise that a stunning developer ecosystem is a necessity — something it’s going to take a lot of other companies in the space a long time to realise.

If you’re a mobile developer, take a very close look indeed at BlackBerry.

Standby — I’ll hopefully begin publishing the first videos from the event today.

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