BlackBerry Opens Up App World, But Is It Enough?

SAN FRANCISCO -- Research In Motion is kicking off its BlackBerry Developers Conference here by announcing advances to the mobile platform's App World store and new developer opportunities.

Some of the news essentially gets the BlackBerry caught up with competitors like Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL). For example, the BlackBerry's App World store will now support so-called "in-app" commerce applications that are already an established feature of the iPhone ecosystem. With in-app programs, users are given the option, for example, to buy premium content or virtual goods in the program they're running.

But Alan Brenner, RIM's (NASDAQ: RIMM) senior vice president for the BlackBerry platform, took exception to any suggestion that the company is merely playing catch-up with competitors, noting the rollout of a new, tightly integrated social media platform and open source development tools.

"The level of integration we're announcing today with WebWorks is unique. We're giving full access to the underlying APIs and the fact that we're making the platform extensible to partners is unique," he said in a meeting with reporters. "We're giving developers opportunities they won't find anywhere else."

With WebWorks, RIM said developers will be able to build BlackBerry smartphone applications entirely in HTML5, CSS and JavaScript, or even mix and match using a variety of tools for certain "hybrid" applications. Company executives emphasized that the move enables developers to leverage their HTML skills to create new applications.

RIM executives also noted that developers will be able to take advantage of deep integration with the BlackBerry's core features, including multitasking and "push" features that automatically push the latest email and other information out to the device.

The news comes on the heels of Apple's recent announcement that it was making its developer policy less restrictive in terms of what tools could be used to develop iPhone apps. The earlier policy made it impossible, for example, to create applications using Adobe's Flash media software.

Tyler Lessard, RIM's vice president of global alliances and developer relations, said one of the new applications uses the BlackBerry's GPS to automatically sense when the user is travelling in a car. "It runs in the background and provides real-time push to send you traffic alerts and read your email [out loud]," he said.

Another example Lessard noted of tight integration is a birthday reminder app that automatically puts birthdays from a user's contacts list in the calendar and lets users email a birthday card with one click.

While BlackBerry remains a leading smartphone maker, its share has slipped with the ascent of the iPhone and a raft of devices running Google's Android operating system. But Lessard said this week's announcements promise to strengthen what is already a strong base, noting there are over 35 million users of its App World online marketplace.

RIM also announced a new BlackBerry Analytics Service that will be freely available early next year. The service was developed with analytics firm Webtrends.

"BlackBerry developers will now have better access to complementary, enterprise-class mobile analytics technology and services," Webtrends CEO Alex Yoder said in a statement. "Webtrends has a truly powerful and incredibly comprehensive platform for creating, measuring and improving content across all digital channels and mobile is no exception."

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

TAGS:

developer, Blackberry, mobile apps, RIM, mobile app developer

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