RIM extends BlackBerry's social circle for developers

At its developer conference, Research In Motion has introduced a platform to let application developers hook social features into BlackBerry Messenger, among a range of new services
Written by Simon Bisson, Contributor

Research In Motion has added a social element to its popular BlackBerry Messenger service, unveiling tools for integrating the instant-messaging service into applications.

On Monday, the mobile device maker introduced the BlackBerry Messenger Social Platform at its annual developer conference in San Francisco. Also announced at the event were additional features for taking payment for premium services, an improved set of tools for building HTML-based applications, and a new enterprise application framework.

The BlackBerry Messenger Social Platform is designed to add social interaction to third-party applications. It does this by giving developers access to a set of APIs that will let them integrate their software with Research In Motion's (RIM) peer-to-peer messaging platform. The platform is fast growing, pulling in more than 2,000 new users an hour, according to the Canadian manufacturer.

"It's a huge opportunity to enable third-party developers to offer apps as extensions of the [BlackBerry Messenger] client and network and take advantage of true peer-to-peer data communications we enable," said Tyler Lessard, vice president of global alliances and developer relations at RIM.

Applications will be able to share a user's content with that user's BlackBerry Messenger contacts, with one-click access and the ability to be installed as a messaging plug-in. RIM expects developers to integrate the new technology in social games, using it to invite new participants and to transmit peer-to-peer data between applications. BlackBerry Messenger Social Platform is expected to arrive in spring 2011.

RIM also used its BlackBerry Developer Conference to unveil WebWorks, a set of development tools for HTML-based BlackBerry applications. While WebWorks is not RIM's first move into open source, it is the company's most ambitious foray, as it aims to bridge the gap between the company's own web development platforms and existing open-source web technologies such as JQuery and PhoneGap.

WebWorks is "a tremendous benefit for developers. It gives them access to web-based development and to the full capabilities of the BlackBerry platform", Alan Brenner, RIM's BlackBerry platform chief, told a press briefing.

Building on the existing BlackBerry Widget platform, WebWorks gives web developers tools that can access most of the BlackBerry operating system APIs, using HTML 5, CSS and JavaScript. BlackBerry Java developers also gain new tools, with the launch of a Eclipse plug-in for developers using Mac OS X.

WebWorks is available immediately from the BlackBerry section of Github.

In addition, enterprise developers gained access to a new BlackBerry Enterprise Application Middleware (Beam) platform, which Brenner described as "simplifying enterprise application development and solving a number of key problems, typically dealing with end-to-end issues".

Beam handles complex marshaling code for developers, with libraries for client and for server that use an extensible XML framework and can be hosted on any Java application server.

"Beam can handle a number of the more difficult tasks developers have to master, in particular the use of BlackBerry push technologies," Brenner said. That means enterprise services can now be delivered quickly and easily, he added.

RIM also announced BlackBerry Advertising Service, a new advertising platform, and the Blackberry Payment Service, which gives developers the option of charging application users for premium content.

Noting that more than 35 million people are using BlackBerry App World, and that more than 1.5 million applications for the smartphone are downloaded every day, Lessard described the new advertising platform as "a different approach from what we've seen in the marketplace".

The aim is to deliver a service that is open, flexible, global and simple to use, according to Lessard. Developers will be able to add adverts with just three lines of code on Java or web applications, using RIM's back-end mediation platform. They can choose between RIM's advertising network partners for their service, or can just let RIM deliver a locally relevant advert from any of its sources, with revenues split 60/40 between RIM and developers. Users will be able to click adverts to interact with the business — to phone it, to see a map, to send an email, to add it to their calendar and to play video.

The BlackBerry Payment Service adds micro-transactions to applications so that users can purchase premium content and services. As it is built on RIM's App World payment service, they will be able to use existing payment mechanisms without needing separate code for each supported method. These mechanisms include carrier billing, which RIM executives promised will extend to mobile operators worldwide "over the course of 2011".

A software developer kit (SDK) for the BlackBerry Payment Service is available now, and the service will be live by the end of 2010, according to RIM.

The company announced the BlackBerry Analytics Service, a partnership with Webtrends that will give developers access to application analytics and reporting tools. The service is a simple, free-to-use SDK that allows them to see how, when and where their applications are being used. Reports also include details of the features being used, and where end users downloaded the application.

The service is a way of "helping [developers] design better applications, as well as seeing how to monetise them in the end," Lessard said.

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