Although Research In Motion Ltd.’s new BlackBerry Torch device grabbed most of the headlines on Tuesday, the company also made a few developer-related announcements that have already been met with praise from some Canadian app makers.
As expected, the new touchscreen device will feature the BlackBerry 6 OS and utilize the Webkit browsing engine, an open source platform that is used by Apple’s iOS 4 as well as RIM’s recently acquired Torch Mobile. The new Web browser is critical to RIM’s new OS, as the company has made it clear it wants to give developers the ability to build media-rich Web sites and advanced apps.
But flying under the radar for most consumers was the launch of RIM’s new Java software development kit. The 40 new APIs are aimed squarely at giving developers access to geo-location and HTML5 support, as well as other device functions that were difficult to program with the previous SDK.
In addition to giving developers to ability to tap into new BlackBerry 6 OS features such as a universal search system and contextual menus, the company also promised that the new OS will support all legacy BlackBerry apps.
Scott Michaels, vice-president at Vancouver-based mobile development shop Atimi Software Inc., said the addition of the Webkit browser is a huge move for RIM that could bring it closer to Apple, which is the current dominant player in the mobile application space.
“That means that more of the Web developer community can be involved to create pages specifically built out against the browser,” he said. “It is not totally clear yet how much access the developers of applications, rather than mobile sites, will have to interact with the Webkit inside an application. However, the announcement that Webkit will have access to some of the phone features just like a native application leads us to believe this will be a good step in the right direction.”
It might also allow developers the ability to share the Webkit portion of their code between mobile platforms that use the rendering engine, which includes both iOS 4 and Android, Michaels added.
Jeff Bacon, director of product management at Ottawa-based mobile game developer Magmic Games Inc., was impressed with RIM’s SDK announcement as well as the company’s overall response to criticism of its Web browsing experience. He said the inclusion of the Webkit browser will assist developers in producing “much better sites and graphics.”
While the BlackBerry browser has always been quick and used very little data, he said, it was inferior to other smart phones when rendering images. “This will bring the device on par with the best in the market,” Bacon added.
And even though Canadian BlackBerry users have not been given a launch date for the new device, Bacon said, the fact that the device will ship in the U.S. on the AT&T network within the next few weeks means Canadian app developers will have to get to work immediately.
“The smart phone market is a global market for developers,” he said. “We have to pay attention to devices all over the world.”
Michaels said that while the device certainly seems like a step forward for RIM, the majority of development firms will wait and see how the Torch does in the market before committing months of time and money developing specifically for the phone itself.