RIM Launches New BlackBerry Web App Platform

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2010-09-28

RIM Launches New BlackBerry Web App Platform

At its BlackBerry Developer Conference 2010 (DEVCON 2010), Research In Motion demonstrated how the company is pushing its momentum with developers by providing a new Web application platform, simplifying enterprise app development, launching both new analytics and advertising services, as well as opening up its BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) social platform to developers.

In an interview with eWEEK, Paxton Cooper, senior director of platform product management at RIM, said the company is continuing to better enable its developers to more easily and effectively deliver apps for the 50 million BlackBerry users the company claims as customers.

"We are building on our existing momentum in the developer community to build apps more rapidly and to monetize them like never before," Cooper said. "We've got new tools, a new BlackBerry WebWorks platform, new commercial services and other new initiatives that are all about making it easier for developers to establish and build on that connection with our customer base."

Cooper said perhaps the biggest news, or the news he is "most excited about," coming out of the event being held in San Francisco Sept. 27-30 "is the evolution of our Web platform."

Cooper said the new BlackBerry WebWorks app platform merges the simplicity of HTML5 with the power of BlackBerry services, true multitasking, true push technology and more. The next-generation Web-based development platform enables Web developers to build full-featured applications for BlackBerry smartphones entirely in HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. With the new Web application platform, developers can leverage their HTML skills to create rich, integrated Web applications for BlackBerry smartphones that take advantage of advanced features through APIs and services, just as BlackBerry Java applications can do today.

The new BlackBerry WebWorks platform brings together existing BlackBerry Web development tools as well as new tools and platform services, Cooper said. It provides developers with a comprehensive toolset for creating rich applications that offer customers the benefits of deep integration with core BlackBerry features, true multitasking, push technology and access to the full range of BlackBerry services, such as the Locate service or the newly announced BlackBerry Advertising Service.

"BlackBerry developers have discovered the value of building Web applications that can leverage the unique characteristics of the BlackBerry Platform, such as running in always-on mode and integrating with native BlackBerry applications," said David Yach, chief technology officer for software at RIM, in a statement. "The new BlackBerry WebWorks platform takes the power of existing Web tools and enhances and adds to them in order to allow developers to build sophisticated applications using their existing HTML5 skill sets with no compromise in functionality or performance."

BlackBerry WebWorks also includes updates to the Web application packager, new Web APIs and the BlackBerry Web Plug-Ins 2.5. The Web application packager 1.5 is used by developers to package their Web applications in the same way a BlackBerry Java application is packaged, and with the same file formats. BlackBerry Web applications can then be distributed via BlackBerry App World, BlackBerry Desktop Manager, OTA (over-the-air) or BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

Moreover, BlackBerry WebWorks includes a set of new Web extensions that enable a deeper integration with native applications and other functions of the handset, Cooper said. This means developers have the ability to create apps that allow users to send a text message from within the application; read call log data from the phone application, check if the phone is currently in an active call, and check the number of missed calls; and play an audio file as well as create APIs for playing, pausing, stopping and seeking of the audio file from within the application's UI.

RIM also introduced Web Plug-Ins 2.5. Updates to the Web Plug-Ins for BlackBerry WebWorks include multiple entry points, which give developers the ability to start their application in the background, in addition to launching from the home screen or a download folder. Applications can also continue to run in the background. Web Plug-Ins 2.5 also gives developers the ability to cache Web pages and content to the handset's system memory for faster performance.

Working with Open-Source Developer Community


To top it off, RIM is working with the open-source developer community to allow developers to access and contribute to the BlackBerry open Web application platform and tooling components and share in the evolution of the Web platform. In addition to sharing source code for the BlackBerry Web platform, RIM is working with leading open-source JavaScript framework projects/companies such as Dojo, GitHub, JQuery, Nitobi and Sencha to encourage developers to create Web applications with advanced Web and AJAX functionality.

The BlackBerry open Web application platform offers ease of development and seamless integration with the BlackBerry platform. Developers will be able to quickly package Web assets (HTML, CSS3, JavaScript and access to local resources) into easily deployable applications that take advantage of the BlackBerry platform's unique value and Super App qualities such as access to hardware functionality, access to Push, access to contextual location services, access to native applications and integration with BlackBerry services for advertising, analytics and payment services.

"RIM has always firmly supported industry standards and believes in embracing the needs of the developer community," said Alan Brenner, senior vice president of the BlackBerry Platform at RIM, in a statement. "We started supporting open-source communities through our work on the BlackBerry 6 WebKit browser, and the response from the open-source community has already been very positive. We are tremendously excited to see where the developer community will take this initiative and the code that we are presenting."

"The Dojo Foundation is ecstatic about RIM's open-source initiative," said Dylan Schiemann, CEO at SitePen and vice president of the Dojo Foundation. "BlackBerry 6, integrated with our mobile strategy (dojofoundation.org/mobile/), is a platform that will give Web application developers extreme control over developing mobile Web applications. We are thrilled to be working with RIM to build mobile platform support into several Dojo Foundation projects."

"New innovations in BlackBerry 6 have made it possible for PhoneGap developers to build engaging and sophisticated BlackBerry apps," said Andre Charland, CEO at Nitobi, maker of PhoneGap, in a statement. "The new BlackBerry open Web application platform will further encourage developers in the growing PhoneGap community to write more apps for BlackBerry smartphones."

"We're very excited that the full power of the BlackBerry platform will now become easily accessible to Sencha developers," said Abe Elias, CEO of Sencha, also in a statement. "HTML5 is the new lingua franca of mobile, and as the first framework to fully leverage it, we're looking forward to putting it to work for BlackBerry developers."

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