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RIM Looks To Woo Developers

The BlackBerry maker is boosting its ecosystem in hopes of getting more apps to compete with the iPhone and Google Android.

Research In Motion is going to build out its BlackBerry application ecosystem by offering developers as many tools and choices as possible, according to Mike Kirkup, RIM's director of developer relations.

Mobile apps are becoming increasingly important in the smartphone space, particularly with the success of Apple's App Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch. But with Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Symbian, Windows Mobile, webOS, and new entrants including Samsung's Bada, many developers are struggling to afford the costs of building and supporting programs for such a wide variety of platforms. Kirkup said the BlackBerry maker is trying to ease some of these burdens by offering as many tools as possible that content creators are already comfortable with.

"It's all about choice. I just want a developer to be able to use what makes the most sense for them," said Kirkup. "If that's a cross-platform tool, that's great; if it's Oracle, that's even better. We want to meet them on their own ground."

During its BlackBerry Developer Conference in San Francisco this week, the company introduced a host of new application programming interfaces that includes in-app payment protocols, geo-location, expanded push services, and an advertising platform. It also rolled out API extensions that will give users deeper hooks into the hardware, and support for OpenGL ES, which could lead to multiple apps with 3-D graphics.

Kirkup stressed that Java and Web standards will be the pillars upon which RIM builds its app ecosystem. To cast a wide net for potential developers, RIM has already released BlackBerry Java plug-ins for common tools like Eclipse and Visual Studio. As the app ecosystem evolves, Kirkup expects some hybrid apps to emerge that could potentially use HTML or CSS for the user interface and Java tools for native functionalities like calling integration.

One tool that may give RIM a leg up over the iPhone is its collaboration with Adobe to bring a full version of Flash 10 to BlackBerry smartphones. Apple has said Flash is not good enough for the iPhone because of its hardware resource requirements, and it will likely lean on HMTL5 or native apps for Flash-like services. Kirkup said there's still much work to be done in order to get Adobe's technology running on a BlackBerry at an acceptable level, but the move could let the platform tap into a huge base of Flash developers.

"It really could go wild, to be quite honest," said Kirkup of Flash development on BlackBerry.

While the smartphone maker is gunning for the casual market with over-the-air stores like the App World, Kirkup said the company's DNA is in the enterprise space. It recently announced enhanced support for Oracle's JDeveloper to make it easier to craft business-grade apps, and there are already tens of thousands of enterprise apps.

Devices like the iPhone are beginning to slowly creep into businesses, and Android is also expected to make some headway as employees increasingly purchase their own devices and want access to corporate networks. Kirkup said the company has a major advantage because its platform was designed from the ground up with enterprise customers in mind, and its BlackBerry Enterprise Server environment offers richer capabilities than competitors.

"It's much easier to go from enterprise to consumer because once you get the foundation correct, it's easy to turn off features if you want," said Kirkup. "Things like security and the basic building blocks that are required for businesses are difficult to add in after the fact."


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