I was invited to attend the Singapore leg of RIM’s BlackBerry 10 Jam worldwide tour, which is geared toward giving the developer community insights about the BlackBerry 10 platform. In a country with a mobile phone penetration of 145 percent, it is no surprise that the Singapore event was sold out two weeks ago, with more than 300 participants packing the main event hall at the Hilton Singapore Hotel earlier today.
Sarim Aziz, Team Lead Developer Relations on stage at BlackBerry 10 Jam in Singapore. (Photo: RIM)
To learn more about the BlackBerry 10 platform, I sat in the welcome keynote presentation, I spoke with Sarim Aziz, Team Lead Developer Relations, to ensure that I understood the development options correctly, and I attended a media panel that included Alec Saunders, RIM’s VP of Developer Relations.
RIM’s commitment to developers
During the keynote, Saunders stated that RIM has invested heavily in the developer ecosystem. His comment was backed up by the availability of tools designed to help developers get up to speed on the BlackBerry 10 platform quickly; this ranges from the Cascades Builder to the Ripple HTML5 Emulator to the Visual Studio plug-in - all of which are currently available at no cost.
“It’s easy to develop for the BlackBerry,” says Saunders, who pledged that the company will continue to invest in the developer ecosystem. Qualified developers were handed BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha devices at the end of the one-day event. Built at a small in-house manufacturing facility in Waterloo, Canada, these devices were created for the sole purpose of testing BlackBerry 10 apps.
Moreover, RIM will be offering a US$10,000 guarantee to developers who submit a BlackBerry 10 app in time for the launch of BlackBerry 10 devices, which is currently expected to happen in the first quarter of 2013. If an app doesn’t generate $10,000 in revenue by the end of one year, RIM says it will make good the difference. Full conditions for the program aren’t available yet, but it is understood that apps will have to be certified by an independent third party for quality and must be a paid app to qualify.
Summary of the key BlackBerry 10 development options
One method of developing for BlackBerry 10 devices will be to use Cascades Builder, which is built into the QNX Momentics IDE. Developers can use it to design their user interface (UI) using a visual designer based on the Cascades framework. This framework separates the application logic and UI rendering engine on different execution threads that communicate asynchronously — the renderer can update the UI without having to wait for a slow computation to complete.
“You can create custom UI in Cascades using C++. Easily,” said Justin Lee, an application development consultant on RIM’s APAC team. To highlight the extensibility of the Cascades framework, Lee demonstrated a couple of apps on stage that use a custom UI to extend the default interface, one of which incorporated the simultaneous use of OpenGL code in tandem with standard widgets.
Apps created using the Cascades framework will work with BlackBerry 10 devices and the PlayBook tablet when it gets upgraded to support the framework.
To further assuage developers who may be nervous about WebWorks, RIM promised performance parity with apps created using WebWorks and Cascades Builder.
Another development option is Adobe AIR; its runtime is already integrated at the platform level on the BlackBerry PlayBook and BlackBerry 10. This integration eliminates the need for users to install and manage a separate component, giving it similar footing compared to Cascades Builder and HTML5 WebWorks.
Existing Android Java apps can be re-packaged to a compatible BAR file using a number of methods, including via this online tool. I was told that PlayBook 2.1 (which is currently in beta) is capable of running multiple instances of re-packaged Android applications.
Payment services will be available for Android Runtime, but I didn’t have those details yet.
Developers, such as games developers who have no interest in the UI, can create their application in C/C++ using the Native SDK.
RIM has clearly recognized that development tools for its legacy BlackBerry platform was hopelessly outdated, and has since devoted substantial efforts into making BlackBerry 10 as developer friendly as possible. The company is also actively soliciting feedback from developers, with Saunders volunteering his company email address in the keynote as he urged developers to write to him.
So far, the efforts have culminated in a solid selection of development tools and options that dovetail with a large number of open source libraries. RIM’s beleaguered financials and sliding market share aside, the company does appear to have met with some measure of success on at least one front - the developers I spoke with at BlackBerry Jam conceded that development with BlackBerry 10 was easy. It will be an interesting six months as RIM polishes up BlackBerry 10 for release.