RealTime IT News

RIM Courts Devs With New BlackBerry Services

SAN FRANCISCO -- Research In Motion's executives and partners did their best to drown the buzz surrounding Motorola's new Verizon Droid and other mobile competitors despite not having any new devices to announce themselves here at the company's developer conference today.

RIM did just release the Storm2 late last month. But in a series of keynote presentations this morning, RIM (NASDAQ: RIMM) and friends instead talked up new services for the BlackBerry line.

"The BlackBerry ecosystem is thriving and with the new services platform announced today we will help developers further monetize their applications and build breakthrough, highly responsive, location-aware applications for BlackBerry smartphones," Research In Motion Co-CEO Jim Balsillie said.

And while many of the announcements, like support for WebKit and in-application commerce, saw RIM catching up to capabilities of the Apple iPhone, the company did trump its Cupertino, Calif. rival with at least one announcement.

RIM had Adobe Systems on hand to announce the availability of its Flash multimedia technology and Creative Suite content development and authoring tools.

Although Adobe has historically been a staunch supporter of the Mac, its attempts to bring Flash to the iPhone have been rebuffed by Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) over what it said are performance issues. Last month, Adobe revealed that it had been preparing a version of Flash tailored to the Windows Mobile, webOS, Android, Symbian and BlackBerry platforms.

"There is tremendous opportunity for RIM and Adobe to align our platforms to help developers create BlackBerry applications that are highly engaging and deeply integrated in order to deliver the best user experience in the market," Balsillie said in a statement. "We are working closely with Adobe to enable our developer communities to build rich content services and BlackBerry Widgets that leverage the latest runtime environments, APIs and network services through Adobe's industry-leading design and development tools."

Future versions of Adobe's (NASDAQ: ADBE) Creative Suite, starting with Adobe Creative Suite 5, will give designers the ability to optimize graphic assets, such as image and video content, from tools such as Adobe's Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects, for the BlackBerry platform. RIM said these graphics assets can then be easily imported into BlackBerry application development tools, including the BlackBerry Java Plug-in for Eclipse and the BlackBerry Web Plug-in for Eclipse, for use in applications and user interfaces.

Xobni, a startup that received venture funding from RIM (and the name of which spells "inbox" backward,) also joined the presentation to show off new features of it Outlook plug-in for BlackBerry, due out later this year.

"With RIM we are able to do a little magic that cannot be done anywhere else in the mobile world," Xonbi CEO Jeff Bonforte said during a demo. He said he had been surprised to find out from a recent analysis that about half of Xobni's users are also BlackBerry users.

In his demo, Bonforte showed how Xonbi gives access to a user's most relevant contacts, complete with profile information imported from social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

"You think you have to scroll or cut-and-paste, but I never have to do any of that," he said.

Support for Webkit and 'In-App' commerce

RIM also detailed its plans to support WebKit, the popular browsing engine behind Google Android and the iPhone. The company bought mobile browser vendor Torch Mobile, and its WebKit expertise, in August. RIM said its implementation of a WebKit mobile browser will be out next year.

"How do you make a transformative Web experience?" asked David Yach, RIM's CTO for software. "A strong browser is something we've heard loud and clear. It's something we needed to work on and we've made known our intention with WebKit."

"That's a core enabler of the advances we've made in 5.0," he added, in reference to the new 5.0 version of RIM's software platform.

RIM also said its new Advertising Service will let developers integrate advertising into their applications. The BlackBerry Advertising Service feature ads compliant with guidelines set by an industry trade group, the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA). It also supports rich media ads that will be able to deeply integrate with BlackBerry applications.

RIM also went outside its buttoned-down image, announcing its Rich Gaming Platform and OpenGL for Embedded Systems (ES) support for 2D and 3D graphics.

Using the technology, developers will be able to sell premium content, monthly or annual subscriptions and upgrades for games and entertainment from within more advanced applications.

Chris Gibbs, an executive producer with gaming giant EA (NASDAQ: ERTS), said his company had only been working with the Rich Gaming Platform for a few weeks, but had already made progress in bringing titles to BlackBerry.

He demoed a 3D racing game on the device that featured rich graphics, use of the BlackBerry's accelerometer (users tilt the device to steer) and touch (for instance, letting users "tap" on the screen to brake).

"We're delighted RIM is bringing more powerful tools for gaming," Gibbs said.