RIM Developer Chief on the Future of BlackBerry, BBX

CIO.com's Al Sacco chats with RIM's new VP of Developer Relations, Alec Saunders, about the new BlackBerry platform, BBX, the future of the existing BlackBerry OS, what this software split means to BlackBerry--and Android--developers, and more.

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Thu, November 03, 2011
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What BBX Means for BlackBerry Developers

As previously mentioned, BBX is an entirely new smartphone OS for RIM, with a different foundation, and as such, developers will need to take a different approach to BlackBerry development in the future.

Perhaps the most notable different between BlackBerry OS development and BBX development is that the BBX OS does not support applications developed using RIM's Java Development Environment (JDE), which has been widely used by RIM developers in the past to create many popular BlackBerry apps.

"This was a really tough decision," Saunders says. "We worked really hard to get the JDE environment on BBX."

But in the end it just didn't pan out, he says.

However, "[n]o developer on BlackBerry today should feel that they need to abandon their existing investments [in Java apps]," Saunders says. "There were companies making lots and lots and lots of money in 2010 delivering apps for Windows XP. And there's a great market today for Java BlackBerry apps.

"But the way forward doesn't include the BlackBerry JDE," he says.

Saunders also says RIM is now encouraging developers to embrace its new WebWorks HTML 5 development tools. And the company recently unveiled a new set of developer resources, including in-depth training videos, in the form of a new initiative called "BlackBerry Jam."

Another interesting tidbit for BlackBerry developers: Though a compatibility issue with the new "Liquid Graphics" engine in the BlackBerry 7 OS has kept RIM from releasing BlackBerry Theme Studio tools for the latest BlackBerry OS, Saunders says these tools will become available mid-2012, he says. (RIM has an internal theme building tool, which is how the company built the custom "Porsche" theme used on the new, limited edition BlackBerry P'9981 device, but the tool is not available to developers outside of RIM, according to Saunders.)

Until the BlackBerry 7 issue is resolved, it remains unclear whether or not BBX smartphones will ever get BlackBerry themes.

BBX and Android Applications

Future BBX smartphones and RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet will be able to run some compatible Android applications. And that's good news for both BlackBerry users and BlackBerry developers. (Read more details on the Android Player for PlayBook.)

More specifically, roughly 70 percent of the applications currently available via Google's Android Market are potentially compatible with the BlackBerry PlayBook and the BBX OS. The majority of applications that aren't BBX compatible employ licensed APIs for access to services like Google Maps, etc. And RIM currently has no plans to enable the use of these APIs. So any Android applications that require access to any of these licensed APIs will be incompatible with BBX devices for the foreseeable future, Saunders says.

So why would a mobile app developer choose to create a BBX specific application when he could just build an Android app and then "port" it over to the Android Player for BBX in a few simple steps?

The main reason: Applications developed specifically for BBX, using native development tools, will be able to take advantage of everything the latest and greatest BlackBerry hardware has to offer, including graphics, display and processor enhancements, Saunders says. Because Android apps weren't built specifically for BlackBerry, they'll work but often won't be as "polished" or advanced as native apps.

Saunders thinks the Android Player creates a great opportunity for Android developers to quickly and easily cater to BlackBerry users via BlackBerry App World. But Android apps will still be at a disadvantage when compared to native apps for the above-stated reason, he says.

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