BlackBerry 10: How RIM is reaching out to developers

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.
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

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.

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