BlackBerry development basics from RIM's Mike Kirkup

Justin James shares what he learned about BlackBerry development from Mike Kirkup, Director of Developer Relations at Research in Motion.

Last month, I talked to the good folks at Google about what it takes for someone to get up and running with Android development. This month, I spoke to Mike Kirkup, Director of Developer Relations at Research in Motion (RIM), to learn the basics about BlackBerry development.

The first thing I learned about is the tool set; Mike told me that all of the necessary tools are available on the BlackBerry Web site for free. Native BlackBerry development focuses on using an Eclipse-based development environment to write Java applications. Something that concerned me was that I had seen presentations in which developers used two IDEs to write Java applications for the BlackBerry; Mike assured me that this was due to limitations in a tool that has been phased out, and that kind of ugly workflow is no longer needed. When working in Java, you use the standard Java language in conjunction with the BlackBerry API libraries.

For testing purposes, the development environment includes an emulator. In the latest editions, there is a new "fast emulator" that allows you to hot swap the application on the device, eliminating the need to reboot the emulated device to test revisions to your code; this is a major improvement over the testing lifecycle that I had seen demoed.

With the open distribution model of the BlackBerry system, you can deploy the application to your site, upload it through the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, offer it on the BlackBerry App World marketplace, through a variety of third-party marketplaces, or distribute the application directly through the carriers. For developers who want to use the BlackBerry Push service, RIM offers free editions for development.

An alternative to writing native Java applications is to create Web-based applications that are scaled to mobile platforms' smaller screens and limited input systems. BlackBerrys currently partially support the HTML 5 specification, which has a lot of functionality to enable developers to write rich Web applications without Flash, Silverlight, or other similar plug-ins. The BlackBerry platform supports the new W3C widgets system, which uses JavaScript, CSS, and HTML, and on the BlackBerry, these widgets look just like native applications.

When I first reached out to RIM, it was before I bought an Android device and before I took a poll regarding what platforms TechRepublic members are interested in. It is unlikely that I will have the chance to really try out much BlackBerry development (I am going to try my hand at Android apps for the time being); but all the same, I think that the BlackBerry development scenario is of particular interest to developers of enterprise applications.

Overall, the BlackBerry development basics seem very similar to the Android development process, from the tools to the testing and deployment. I would love to hear from anyone who has firsthand experience with either system.


Disclosure of Justin's industry affiliations: Justin James has a contract with Spiceworks to write product buying guides; he has a contract with OpenAmplify, which is owned by Hapax, to write a series of blogs, tutorials, and articles; and he has a contract with OutSystems to write articles, sample code, etc.


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