Home Blackberry Developer Conference: It’s All about the Apps

Blackberry Developer Conference: It’s All about the Apps

At yesterday’s Blackberry Developer Conference, several companies announced major updates to their applications and services designed for Blackberry smartphones. From Blackberry maker Research in Motion (RIM) came new geolocation, advertising and push services in addition to other developer tools. Meanwhile, companies like Loopt, eBay, Xobni, and others took the opportunity to show off their latest Blackberry applications as well.

RIM Woos Developers

With all the news from the event, one thing was clear: RIM desperately wants developers to build for Blackberry and is now actively enticing them with a slew of new offerings designed to win them over.

One of the biggest announcements made yesterday involved the launch of new APIs (application programming interfaces) for third-party developers. The APIs offered include a new advertising service, a payments service, location services, and the general availability of Blackberry’s own Push service, which had never before been made available to outside developers. What this means is that developers now have the tools to build applications that rival those already available on many other smartphones today, most notably, the iPhone. In some cases, the Blackberry APIs even offer something the iPhone doesn’t such as is the case with the payments service which allows you to pay for apps on your next mobile phone bill.

The location services include a geo-location API that will use cell tower triangulation as a backup for when GPS fails, making location-based applications more reliable. There are also services for determining your phone’s location on a map and another that helps estimate travel time for driving directions. It’s obvious to see how these types of services could help build new and useful mobile applications for the Blackberry.

Also revealed was the new Blackberry Advertising Service, an offering designed to help developers generate revenue from their mobile applications. Through partnerships with ad networks, developers can easily integrate mobile advertising within their apps and track the ad’s effectiveness with an included analytics package. It’s even possible for these ads to access the phone’s core features. For example, you’ll be able to initiate a phone call from an ad or add a calendar entry from an ad. That’s an innovation that many other mobile handhelds are not yet offering. These types of interactions should have a clear appeal to the many business-minded corporate Blackberry users who are often more interested in getting things done than they are with playing mindless games.

That being said, the game-playing crowd isn’t being ignored either. Also announced was support for OpenGL ES, a graphics API for 3D games. While this doesn’t quite put the Blackberry on par with what’s available for iPhone, it’s a move that’s designed to keep Blackberry at least somewhat competitive in the field of mobile gaming.

Other announcements included new support for mobile developers looking to build applications with the languages and tools they already know and use. Java developers will get a new GUI builder that lets them create mobile interfaces using a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) editor with drag-and-drop capabilities. Adobe developers will be able to use the company’s Flash Platform technology and Adobe Creative Suite tools to build rich, mobile apps as well. This is another area where Apple falls short – Flash still doesn’t work on the iPhone. Instead Flash developers have to use special Adobe software to convert apps written in Flash to a format that’s iPhone-compatible. Also, designers can now use Adobe Photoshopand Dreamweaver to build both themes and widgets using the new Blackberry Theme Studio 5.0.

Apps, Apps, Apps!

In addition to the RIM-specific announcements, a number of companies also used the Developer Conference as the launching pad for new Blackberry applications and related announcements.

Ebay, for example, unveiled a brand-new mobile app that lets you search for items, view descriptions and photos, bid, watch items, and more. It will also tap into Blackberry’s now open Push services API to deliver real-time alerts as to when you’re outbid on an auction. Considering that the company has already generated $400 million this year using eBay’s iPhone application, this new Blackberry app should be a big hit among mobile users when it launches next month.

The popular location-based social networking service called Loopt also revealed a major update for Blackberry which includes something the iPhone can’t offer due to the nature of the device: it runs in the background to continually update your location in real-time. This is one of the iPhone’s biggest flaws according to critics, since so many mobile applications take advantage of always-on connectivity to track your location for the benefit of specific mobile apps. In Loopt’s case, the app knows where you are in order to show you nearby friends and local businesses which you can rate. It even offers mobile coupons for the retailers and restaurants in your vicinity.

Finally, Xobni, the Outlook email search plugin that discovers social connections in your inbox, revealed their new Blackberry application, too. As with the desktop software, Xobni for Blackberry will let you find contacts in your address book quickly using Xobni Rank technology which returns results ranked based on frequency and freshness of your communication. The application will be made available sometime early next year.

The Blackberry Developer Conference continues until Thursday, so stay tuned for even more news over the coming days.

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