New Services Platform for BlackBerry Developers
At the conference, RIM announced several products or features that make it dramatically easier for BlackBerry developers to build specific capabilities into their applications:
- Application data push
- Advertising services
- Payment services
- Improved location services
Let's take a look at each feature.
With BlackBerry's application data push capabilities, a back-end application can push data to an application running on one or more BlackBerry devices. When used correctly, this unique capability of the BlackBerry platform can have a dramatic impact on application users.
One of the reasons that I wrote BlackBerry Development Fundamentals was to try to explain some of the more complicated BlackBerry development technologies in a way that most people could understand. Push was an example of something that was very interesting but not explained well in RIM's documentation.
With BlackBerry Device Software 5.0, RIM added new push APIs that simplify the amount of work a developer needs to do to build a push listener (a Java application that processes data pushed to it from a back-end data source). Rather than requiring the developer to build all of the code needed to do this work, the platform now includes APIs to create a push object, call methods, and deal with events. You no longer need to be a rocket scientist to build push applications! You don't need to understand the inner workings of the device; you can just call a few methods in the Push classes to get your push application up and running in no time.
RIM's new Push SDK provides developers with the tools to build the push application. I haven't had a chance to dig into this kit yet, but I understand that it's a set of Java libraries that provide much of the needed functionality for a push application.
Further, RIM has announced that anyone can use the push service (to push to external devices) for free. Until now, only RIM Independent Software Vendor (ISV) Alliance members could use it, and a cost was associated with the service. It should have been free all along, but perhaps the lack of real adoption by developers caused RIM to make the service free, just to see if more people would be interested in it. Developers should take a close look at the application data push capabilities provided by the BlackBerry platformno other smartphone platform offers this capability, and it can dramatically affect the usefulness and impact of an application.
RIM's new BlackBerry Advertising Service will allow developers to integrate advertising into their BlackBerry applications. With the service, RIM will provide developers with access to advertisements from several advertising networks, such as Jumptap, Lat49, Millennial Media, NAVTEQ, 1020 Placecast, Quattro Wireless, and Sympatico.ca. The BlackBerry Advertising Service and associated SDK are expected to be available in the first half of 2010.
Before the availability of this service, developers had to manage the relationships with each of the ad providers they used, as well as building the necessary functionality into their applications. With the SDK, developers can implement ads the way they want them to appear in their applications; then RIM and its partners deliver the ads and make sure that the correct payments are made. Applications will be able to display ads from multiple services without any need to write special code for each service.
The API will include functions that allow developers to integrate ads with other aspects of the device (such as the ability to initiate a phone call from an ad, or to add a calendar entry). The service will provide detailed reporting of advertising activity across multiple networks, as well as advanced analytics to help determine which ads or services work better than others in an application.
Another new feature RIM announced for the platform is the BlackBerry Payment Service, which will give developers the means to implement in-application payment and transaction services, allowing companies or independent developers to monetize their applications or application content more easily. Using the SDK, developers will be able to process license purchases or content subscriptions from within the application. RIM will take care of the relationship with the payment platforms, wrapping it all up into a single API. The BlackBerry Payment Service and associated SDK are expected to be available in the first half of 2010.
Adding to the GPS capabilities already supported on many devices in the BlackBerry application platform, RIM has announced three new location-based services that will allow BlackBerry developers to build even more robust location-aware applications:
- Cell Site Geolocation. This feature gives developers an alternative to GPS by providing an estimate of a smartphone's location based on cell tower triangulation. This type of location awareness is generally faster than GPS, uses less battery power, and works indoors as well as outdoorswhich standard GPS cannot do. Expected to be available in the first half of 2010, this service will support BlackBerry smartphones running BlackBerry Device Software 5.0 or higher.
- Reverse Geocoding. This service allows an application to convert longitude and latitude location coordinates to a specific address. The capability is available today on devices running BlackBerry Device Software 5.0 and higher.
- Travel Time. With this service, applications can estimate travel time to most destinations in the U.S. and Canada. The service uses distance to destination, posted speed limits, and current traffic conditions to return values for estimated arrival time, total travel time, and total distance. This service is expected to be available in the first half of 2010.