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RIM Boosts BlackBerry Developer Tools

The company launched a host of APIs that could lead to richer BlackBerry applications.

In order to make its BlackBerry platform more attractive to developers, Research In Motion said Monday it is enhancing the platform with new application programming interfaces that will potentially enable richer applications.

During its second-annual BlackBerry Developer Conference, the company looked to address some of the perceived weaknesses in its platform for developers. Mobile applications are becoming increasingly important in the smartphone space, primarily due to the success Apple has had with its App Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Apple owners have already downloaded more than two billion apps in about a year and a half, and the iPhone is gathering a lot of mindshare and attention within the developer community.

While RIM has launched its own over-the-air app store and there are a plethora of enterprise-oriented BlackBerry apps, the platform is generally seen to lag behind the iPhone, Android, and other competitors in the app space because of the lack of hooks into the hardware and core services. The company is looking to change that perception with the launch of new APIs aimed at creating a rich environment where programs seamlessly interact with each other.

"Applications are no longer islands," said RIM's co-CEO Jim Balsillie. "They're there to create this rich, transformative experience."

The BlackBerry maker introduced an advertising API that aggregates the services of companies like AdMob and Quattro to enable developers to quickly plug in ads in an attempt to monetize. There's also a new payment API that will allow in-app payments for things like subscription services. RIM also boosted the location-based services by rolling out a geo-location API that can determine a user's location with cell tower triangulation and reverse geo-coding.

Creating a rich developer environment can be a bit of a balancing act between openness and security, said RIM chief technology officer David Yach, but the smartphone maker continues to provide deeper hooks for developers to tap into. New API extensions enable content creators to make programs that take advantage of core functionalities like the media player, BlackBerry Messenger, the camera, and other features. RIM said it expects to open up more of the platform to developers in the near future while still retaining its enterprise-grade security.

"Where we are today is so much further than were we were a year ago. And I know a year from now we'll be even further ahead," said Yach.

RIM also said its BlackBerry platform would include OpenGL ES support, which allows developers to create apps with 3-D graphics. At the developer conference, Electronics Arts Mobile showed off a 3-D version of its "Need For Speed" franchise on a BlackBerry, and games like this could allow the platform to better compete against the iPhone for mobile gamers. RIM said layering these types of graphics with things like push data, location awareness, and BlackBerry Messenger could make a compelling gaming experience that cannot be found on any other platform.

The company has not forgotten about its enterprise roots, as it also announced enhanced support for Oracle's JDeveloper. This will allow developers to create Java or Web enterprise-grade apps that integrate RIM's services with Oracle Fusion. RIM also previewed a BlackBerry Java Plug-in for Eclipse that has a drag-and-drop graphical user interface builder.

InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis on application delivery. Download the report here (registration required).

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