Research In Motion is offering a new set of tools that will allow developers to create web apps for BlackBerry handsets.
The tools will also work offline and expand beyond the Java platform, which has been core to BlackBerry apps.
Support for the Gears web application framework and other tools will help to make web applications into "first-class citizens" on the BlackBerry, said Alan Brenner, senior vice-president of the BlackBerry Platform. Support for Gears, the web development plug-in first developed by Google, is set to become available next year.
Java has been the foundation of applications on the BlackBerry, but with the maturing of the mobile web with faster networks and full web browsers, it is becoming a major platform for smartphone software.
RIM also said it will add support for SQL Lite for tying BlackBerry applications into relational databases, with the capability to keep using the applications offline with Java. Developers will also be able to use Web Signals to make their applications deliver live icons to the home screen of the device that give quick information updates and let the user click to get more details.
In another move that could open up new possibilities to BlackBerry developers, RIM will expose the application programming interfaces (APIs) for its push technology, which has made the BlackBerry a hit with instantly available email. This will let third-party developers create their own push applications for the platform, although the APIs will be rolled out gradually over several quarters.
RIM would roll out its APIs more quickly but is concerned about security, according to David Yach, CTO for software. The company is concerned that exposing APIs might expose potential holes, he said.
"All of us are in a world of hurt if there's some serious security problems on the BlackBerry," Yach said.
RIM also announced it is following the lead of Apple's App Store with the BlackBerry Application Storefront, where developers can sell their applications directly to consumers. It is expected to become available in March. Through a partnership with PayPal, buyers will be able to use the popular online payment service at the store.
RIM will make the terms for the Application Storefront as clear as possible, said Jeff McDowell, vice president of global alliances. The company wants to prevent developers from creating applications for the Storefront, only to find out at the last minute that they don't meet RIM's conditions.
"We're gonna make sure that never happens," he said. Apple has come under fire for allegedly removing applications from the App Store based on policies that weren't clear.
Other moves announced that should make life easier for developers included a bug-tracking database and new beta-test versions of plug-ins for the Eclipse and Visual Studio development environments.
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