BlackBerry 10: How RIM is reaching out to developers

BlackBerry 10: How RIM is reaching out to developers

Summary: Persuading developers to get on board is essential for the success of BlackBerry 10. Here's what RIM has done so far and a rundown of the tools developers can use to build for BlackBerry 10.


RIM has been stepping up its outreach to developers, perhaps realising a rich and thriving app ecosystem is now an essential requirement for any smartphone platform.

Indeed, it's been trying to close the gap on Android and iOS in a number of ways. For example, in May 2012, RIM launched its series of developer-focused BlackBerry Jam World Tour events, providing presentations, workshops and access to RIM employees to developers.

Since the first, there have been a total of 44 events, hosted in 37 different countries and attended by nearly 9,500 people. Over the course of these events, RIM has issued more than 8,000 'Dev Alpha' test hardware units to developers in order to help them familiarise themselves with the platform and build apps that take advantage of the core features.

RIM also ran 11 BlackBerry Jam Enterprise Tour events in North America, Europe and Latin America, attended by more than 1,000 developers. These events are a clear sign that RIM wants to fix its ecosystem problem, and show that it hasn't forgotten where its core business lies.

Show me the money

The company has also been appealing to developers' pockets, claiming that people who build for its platforms tend to make more money than their equivalents on iOS, and recently launching a '$10k Developer Commitment'.

This is the company's promise that bespoke high-quality apps, those deemed 'Built for BlackBerry', will be rewarded for their efforts. It means if your app is eligible and you only earn, say, $1,500 from it, RIM will make up the difference to $10,000.

In the run-up to the launch of BlackBerry 10, RIM has also been running a series of online 'Port-A-Thons' to encourage devs to port their existing apps to the new platform.

During the course of the events RIM was paying developers $100 per app for each one that was accepted for the BlackBerry World store, up to a maximum of 20. RIM earmarked $500,000 for these port-a-thons alone.

Whether or not the efforts will pay off in the long run remains to be seen, but for now, it seems to be having some effect. Just one of the port-a-thons alone brought an additional 15,000 apps into the store. Its second event brought another 19,000. 

"RIM realised the importance of an active eco-system pretty early on, even before addressing more aggressively the shift towards touch," Gartner mobile analyst Carolina Milanesi told ZDNet.

"However, realising it was important and addressing the needs of the users with the right type of apps, an easy-to-navigate store and appropriate pricing did not materialise. So in a way they are addressing that now with BlackBerry 10 and the recent announcements of 19,000 apps added in a week or so."

Thorsten Heins, chief executive of RIM, has said that there will be around 70,000 titles available on launch day — around 10 times more than at the introduction of Windows Phone 8.

Building for BlackBerry

If, as a developer, you do decide to take a crack at the BlackBerry platform, there are a number of different ways to go about it that use a number of different technologies, or in some cases, a combination of them. Each method has its own tools and accompanying documentation, websites, and support options.

There will be around 70,000 titles available on launch day — around 10 times more than at the introduction of Windows Phone 8

Native BlackBerry 10 apps use C/C++, but there are different tools to download depending on what you want to do, for example, if you want to create an app built from the ground up to take advantage of all the BlackBerry 10 features open to developers, RIM suggests the 'Cascades' SDK, however if you want to port your existing app or build a game, it recommends the 'Core Native' build.

One of the non-native options is to build a WebWorks app, which is a combination of native and HTML5 development.

A WebWorks app is essentially a bundle of web assets within a container that can be viewed by a headless browser.

The benefit of re-using existing assets and standard web code such as HTML5, JavaScript and CSS is a quicker development time for apps, and when used in conjunction with WebWorks they can still offer functionality usually reserved for native apps, such as BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) or the Personal Information Manager (PIM). Developers can also use the Sencha, PhoneGap, jQuery, or Dojo frameworks.

If you'd rather use Adobe Air to build an app for a BlackBerry 10 device, that's a possibility too. RIM provides the option for developers to use the BlackBerry 10 SDK in conjunction with Adobe ActionScript and Flex APIs to build apps. If developers want to use Air and still achieve some level of native functionality it can be done by creating Air Native Extensions (ANE). Devs can also use Flash Builder to access features like the accelerometer or gyroscope.

Rounding off the list of technologies for BlackBerry 10 is the runtime for Android apps (BlackBerry SDK for Android), essentially a simple way for Android developers to port their apps (based on Android 2.3.3) across to the new platform with a minimum of fuss.

It can be achieved using either a plug-in repackaging tool, a slightly more minimalistic online repackager or via a command line repackaging tool. While the process is relatively simple, it's unlikely that all of the Android APIs will be supported in BlackBerry 10. 

Of course, the BlackBerry Java SDK is also available for download still, but given the new platform, it's not compatible for building apps for BlackBerry 10 devices. Instead, apps built using the Java SDK are compatible with handsets using BlackBerry OS 7.1 or earlier.

Topics: BlackBerry, Apps, Enterprise Software, Mobility, Smartphones, Software Development

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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  • Developers?

    .... both of them?
    • Reading...

      ... is obviously above your cognitive abilities. 19,000 apps in one week.
  • Blackberry is doing a GREAT job courting developers

    And this from an Android developer. Here's why:

    1. Registration cost nothing: Not a dime. Android was the cheapest at a one-time fee of $25. But Blackberry beat that with $0

    2. $10,000 match: If a developer generates $10,000 in app revenue, Blackberry will match that. Apple isn't doing that. Google isn't either. They've just given devs a reason to write and market for Blackberry

    3. Multiple development platforms: The article pointed out the the various platforms. Hence, if you're an Android developer, all you have to do is add Blackberry Nature to your project, compile and you're done. Mr Woods is right that not all APIs will transfer. Most of my apps are heavy with Google Maps. So I had to strip that piece out of one I've already ported for the Playbook. But I'm upgrading my skill set to C++ so I can write native Blackberry apps.

    There are some things I think they're doing wrong. Marketing being the biggest. They keep showing how great email integration is and how you can go back to email from any app. But they need to highlight the consumer side of things. They've shown this to developers, but the public (as you're certain to see in the posts that follow) don't know anything about it.
    • The e-mail "client" on the PB still stinks.

      Even though an option to leave copies of messages on e-mail servers when deleted from the PB is in the program...IT DOES NOT WORK.

      If I delete a message from my is also deleted from the server. Not amusing. This in itself has rendered my PB useless, and now sits on a shelf right next to my copies of Microsoft Bob. They disserve each other.
      • Oh...and that is the e-mail client that it took RIM several updates... make available on the PB....along with a calendar. Good planning RIM.
      • Playbook OS is not using Blackberry 10

        Your concern *may* be addressed in Blackberry 10. However, the OS running on your Playbook is not the same thing.

        I haven't noticed anything out of the way with the email client because if I delete my message from my Inbox, I don't want to see it again anyway. So deleting it from the server isn't a problem. After all, I did tell it to "delete" the message.

        What you want sounds like you need archiving.
        • Deleting should respect settings

          When you configure your email account (whether POP3 or IMAP) you can specify when you want the message deleted from the server - regardless of when you delete it from your client. If the client is not respecting that setting in some way then that is a problem.

          I find the Playbook sluggish and painful to use so I don't use it for email so I haven't noticed this particular problem.
      • What kind of email account are you using?

        What you are complaining is dependent upon what kind of email system you have integrated with you playbook? If its ActiveSync - which is a sync protocol it will sync all changes between the mailbox and the deivce, you dont have the option to "delete on handheld only" - like on BB today. IMAP and POP3 will allow you to keep mail on server.

        Have you tried integrating your email account on iphone or android, do you see the ability to keep mail on server...I find the PlayBook unified mailbox the most usable as compared to any phone I have used
  • Interesting....

    ...I may download the SDK(s) and look at them. Would be fun to get back into C/C++ development again. Wouldn't it be interesting if, a year from now, the mobile OS landscape is:
    1. Android
    2. iOS
    3. Blackberry 10
    • If they do it right

      I think you're right.
  • RIM has done a good job

    Really looking forward to a new more advanced platform.