RIM Launches New BlackBerry App Dev Platforms for Enterprise, Web, Social

Research in Motion (RIM) unveiled a new enterprise development platform at its annual developer conference in San Francisco this week, along with a new Web development platform, a new "social platform," an advertising service, a new set of analytics services and other tools and services.

RIM's new WebWorks open-source app platform is designed to allow developers to build full-featured applications for BlackBerry entirely in HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. The company combined the BlackBerry Widgets SDK, which RIM released a year ago, with the BlackBerry Webkit framework and some new tools and platform services to create a tool set for the development of rich, integrated BlackBerry apps -- no Java skills required, said Jeff Jackson, RIM's SVP of Software. Jackson told attendees during his conference keynote that they can now leverage their existing HTML skill sets that take advantage of advanced features through APIs and services, just as BlackBerry Java applications can do today. 

"We did a deeper integration than you'd expect into the BlackBerry 6 operating system," Jackson said, "so that you can get access to those APIs. So any developer can now access the very same APIs that all the Java developers are used to using."

For enterprise developers, the company offered a new enterprise appdev platform dubbed BlackBerry Enterprise Application Middleware. The platform is designed to simplify enterprise application development and solves "some of the challenges of building for mobility, including device OS compatibility and wireless connectivity," the company says. 

The new appdev platform is designed to accelerate the creation of "SuperApps" for commercial enterprise and corporate developers, RIM's Platform SVP, Alan Brenner, told attendees. BlackBerry SuperApps represent a new class of mobile applications that offer "a seamless, integrated, contextualized, and efficient experience," said RIM's president and CEO Mike Lazaridis. "Our developers are able to build in that enhanced experience because of the unique capabilities of the BlackBerry platform," he said. BlackBerry offers more details on its SuperApps page.

The company also introduced the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) Social Platform, which allows developers to build apps such social functions as chat, content sharing and invitation into their applications for the BlackBerry smartphone. The company unveiled a new advertising service, which allows devs to integrate ads into their apps. RIM and Web analytics provider Webtrends announced an agreement to jointly provide a free enterprise-class analytics service for the BlackBerry developer community. The new BlackBerry Analytics Service will allow developers to add measurement into their applications and insight into how customer are using their BlackBerry smartphone apps, the two companies said in a joint announcement. And a new BlackBerry Payment Service SDK allows devs to start building payment services into their apps. 

The company's announcement of a new BlackBerry plug-in for MacOS X drew a round of cheers from the crowd. "It's part of our overall strategy to reach developers on their own terms," said Chris Smith, senior director of the BlackBerry Development Platform.

Of course, the splashiest announcement at this year's conference was RIM's new PlayBook tablet. The PlayBook is smaller and lighter than the iPad; it comes with front and rear facing cameras, a 7-inch touchscreen and can function as a larger display for a BlackBerry phone. Lazaridis showed off the long-expected device during his keynote on Monday. Lazaridis showed off the new device and characterized it as the first "professional" tablet. The company plans to launch the PlayBook in early 2011, he said.

Al Hilwa, program director in IDC's application development software group, saw the RIM announcements collectively -- and the PlayBook preview in particular -- as an important inflection point for the Waterloo, Ontario-based company.

"We saw RIM finally come to terms with the reality of its market situation," Hilwa told ADT, "namely that, although it is leading, the momentum for the smartphone is with others. The company put forward some aggressive changes in its strategy, and showed that it can leverage its strength to work through market challenges."

For developers, RIM offered a "vision of an expanding market," he said, "by entering in a credible way a new device form-factor with its Playbook."

The Playbook leverages the Adobe Flash ecosystem for an "instant portfolio of rich Web sites and applications," Hilwa observed, and makes "a credible entry into corporate boardrooms with Blackberry's formidable enterprise assets."

"Perhaps most importantly," he added, "[RIM] has put together an application development vision that leverages the energy behind the Web to generate full-featured apps without relying on the intricacies and complexities of its two incompatible operating systems for phones and tablet... It looks like RIM is getting its mojo back."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].