RIM taps Web tech to drive mobile development

To bridge gap between BlackBerry and BlackBerry Tablet operating systems, Research In Motion introduces WebWorks SDK which harnesses existing Web technologies and spurs mobile app development that straddles both devices.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

BALI--Research In Motion (RIM) is looking to harness the best of today's Web technologies including HTML5 and JavaScript, to bridge the gap between development efforts for its BlackBerry smartphones and the soon-to-be-released PlayBook tablet.

Tyler Lessard, vice president of global alliances and developer relations at RIM, said the Canadian smartphone manufacturer is intent on bringing the "Web to mobile" by incorporating existing Web technologies into its WebWorks software development kit (SDK).

Released Thursday, the early access version of the SDK will give Web and mobile developers skilled in HTML5, JavaScript and CSS, the tools to create apps for RIM's upcoming PlayBook tablet device, said Lessard, during his keynote presentation here at RIM's first Asia-based developer conference.

Additionally, he noted that developers will be able to create "super apps" that are derived from Web technologies as well as tap underlying native application programming interfaces (APIs) for a "more integrated, always-on" experience.

"We have been investing heavily in Web technologies to transform [and combine] these into an application development platform," he said.

Bridging the platforms
According to Lessard, WebWorks allows existing BlackBerry OS developers to port their apps over to the BlackBerry Tablet OS once the device hits the North American market in the first quarter of 2011.

HTML5, specifically its WebKit technology, bridges both the BlackBerry and BlackBerry Tablet platforms, he added.

RIM also released WebWorks as an open source technology so that the wider developer community can add functionalities that are currently missing in the toolkit, he said.

Asked if its PlayBook device is generating developer buzz, Greg Wade, RIM's Southeast Asia managing director , pointed to the extension of an ongoing tablet development program as proof of the increasing interest in the platform.

Speaking to reporters at a separate briefing here, Wade added that a marketing initiative to give away PlayBooks to developers who have submitted approved BlackBerry Tablet OS apps had been extended from end-2010 to Mar. 31, 2011.

In addition, following the tablet's first-quarter launch date for North America, Asia will be able to get its hands on the device in the second quarter of this year, he said.

RIM introduced the Playbook tablet on Sep. 28 last year, pitching it as a product built for the enterprise user base. In fact, RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis described it as an "amplified view of what's already on [customers'] BlackBerrys".

The 7-inch, dual-core tablet is touted to offer "full multitasking" and hardware-accelerated apps that tap its fast computing capabilities, said Lessard during his keynote.

Carrier billing impetus
Besides creating a viable development roadmap for app developers, RIM is also intent on building out its carrier billing capability, Lessard revealed. Since the launch of its BlackBerry OS 5 in 2009, the company has been partnering U.S. telco, AT&T, to provide carrier billing for subscribers that download its apps, he said, noting that this option is in addition to PayPal and credit card payment methods.

He stressed that carrier billing is a "hugely important, even critical" area for RIM to roll out. Pointing to emerging markets in Southeast Asia and other regions, where credit card payment "doesn't make sense", he noted that these are areas that carrier billing takes on added importance.

However, RIM is not "rushing in" to build out its carrier billing capability in a haphazard manner, Lessard said. Rather, the BlackBerry maker wants to build it right and has "a lot of carriers lined up" to offer the same service that it currently provides via AT&T, he noted.

He declined to pinpoint Asia-Pacific as a priority for this service, although he revealed that the region holds the mantle of being RIM's fastest-growing developer community.

Rival mobile operator, Nokia, is a strong proponent of carrier billing, boasting partnerships with 91 telcos in 27 markets that provide its service. In an earlier report, Niklas Savander, Nokia's executive vice president and general manager of markets, also revealed that all mobile carriers in Singapore, Thailand and Australia have signed up with the Finnish phonemaker to integrate carrier billing with its Ovi app store, saying that this provides a more seamless user experience.

Kevin Kwang of ZDNet Asia reported from RIM's DevCon Asia 2011 in Bali, Indonesia.

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