RIM pushes boat out for BlackBerry developers

Saying BlackBerry software is 'no longer an island', the handset company at its developer conference unveiled new tools and APIs for building mobile apps
Written by Simon Bisson, Contributor

Research In Motion on Monday used its developer conference to unveil tools and services for its BlackBerry platform, along with a deeper partnership with web and design tools vendor Adobe.

In a BlackBerry Developer Conference keynote session headlined by co-chief executive Jim Balsillie, RIM focused on tools that will initially ship with and support BlackBerry OS 5.0, the latest release of its device operating system.

The new features include a widget platform, advertising and payment APIs, and a new cell tower-based location service, as well as the latest version of RIM's Eclipse-based development tools.

The BlackBerry widget platform, which is comparable to Palm's WebOS, gives developers the ability to build applications using HTML and JavaScript, and to deploy the resulting application package through BlackBerry Enterprise Server or RIM's App World app store. Widgets will get JavaScript access to key BlackBerry APIs, giving them deep integration with core OS features and applications, such as the calendar and contact list. Native applications get similar integration, which Balsillie said makes BlackBerry apps "no longer an island".

LinkedIn vice president Adam Nash, who took part in the San Francisco keynote session, praised the level of integration. "At first, the number of ways you can integrate with native applications is a bit daunting — there's a lot of ways you can do it — but once we figured out what we wanted to offer our users, it was incredibly easy to do it," Nash said at the conference.

RIM also introduced several APIs, including an improved push service that is able to deliver short messages to applications. In addition, APIs now come with free access for registered developers.

One key API simplifies working with advertising networks. Ad-supported application Viigo has been able to reduce the code it uses for handling adverts by over 4,500 lines using the new APIs, according to RIM. Gadi Mazor, the chief executive of BlackBerry app developer Nobex, praised the ad API. "Everything they say about ad networks is true — that's a huge burden taken off of us," he told ZDNet UK.

In addition, new payment APIs will support micro-billing inside applications, RIM said. By next year, they will also allow applications, and the BlackBerry App World store itself, to link into operator billing services.

Mazor called the in-app purchase "a huge differentiation, compared to the iPhone." He also described RIM as being well positioned to allow application purchases to be made via the handset owner's mobile phone bill, a key goal for mobile developers.

The company also introduced new Locate APIs, which will use crowd-sourced data collection to build and improve a database of cell tower locations. Developers will then be able to use the API to provide location services for devices without GPS, or where GPS signals are unavailable. Future geolocation tools will also include time-of-arrival APIs that will be based on live data from RIM's Dash navigation service. Alan Panezic, RIM's vice president for platform product management, hailed this in the keynote as "the death of the time-based reminder".

The keynote presentation also touched on other tools available to BlackBerry developers. Oracle is using the declarative programming tools in its Fusion middleware suite to deliver push-based Blackberry applications, mixing enterprise data with web services, Balsillie said.

In October, Adobe announced RIM's membership in the OpenScreen Project at its MAX event, but the two companies are collaborating on more than Flash. At the BlackBerry Developer Conference, Adobe chief executive Shantanu Narayen and Balsillie unveiled new developer tools that integrate Adobe's Creative Suite with the BlackBerry platform. Focusing on the designer-developer workflow, the tools included BlackBerry support in Device Central, direct BlackBerry publishing in Illustrator, and tooling for building BlackBerry widgets inside Adobe's DreamWeaver HTML design and development tool.

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