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RIM's future hangs on developer support for "new BlackBerry"

John Cox | April 27, 2012
With its future up for grabs, Research in Motion at its annual BlackBerry World conference next week will focus on simplifying development for its soon-to-be-unveiled BlackBerry 10 operating system.

The industry only recently began paying attention to RIM's HTML5 investment, and much of the online commentary sees it as a stop gap, a desperate bid to attract some interest until the full BB10 firmware is released along with the software-development kit for native apps.

On the contrary, insists Adam Stanley, senior application development consultant with RIM's BlackBerry Developer Relations group. "Our attempt is to provide an industry-leading mobile Web platform," he says.

In fact, RIM is now expanding and refining its HTML5 support, which began in 2010 with BlackBerry OS 6 after RIM bought Torch Mobile, a mobile browser company focused on the widely used open source Webkit browser platform. Since then, the BlackBerry browser has been repeatedly upgraded with more HTML 5 support, along with BlackBerry OS 7, and the PlayBook OS 1.0 and in February, Version 2.0. PlayBook OS is the QNX-based precursor to BB10. RIM's mobile browser for BlackBerry OS 7 current ranks in the middle of the pack at The HTML5 Test Website but the in-development BB10 browser outstrips all of them except for one, also in development.

The latest HTML5 additions in PlayBook OS 2.0 are no automatic assurance of high performing, well-behaved HTML5 features. One example is the inclusion of the Web Notifications API, previously only found on Firefox for Google's Chrome OS. This is a "killer" feature that enables "Web apps to communicate with the user anytime" via a "notification in the operating system from a webpage...," writes Max Firtman, a development trainer and author of, among others, "Programming the Mobile Web" from O'Reilly Books, in a February 2012 blogpost

But on the Tablet 2.0 release, "it seems to be incomplete," Firtman wrote. "I was able to show a background notification but I could only catch the click event when the user closes the notification with the little "x" icon, not when clicking on the message. Even clicking on the notification's message doesn't do anything. It doesn't open the browser again, it doesn't open the URL [that] I gave when creating the notification and it doesn't trigger any event."

Yet he also wrote that "This new version is again surprising me," with the range of HTML5 firsts it offers. " It's the first mobile browser with remote Web Inspector for debugging over the LAN (instead of USB as in the Chrome browser for Android), an HTML5 File API, 3D transformations, Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) fonts, and Browser History API, according to Firtman.

BlackBerry 10 "will be great for Web developers," promises RIM's Stanley.

Today, developers for BlackBerry can create traditional browser-based Web apps or use RIM's current BlackBerry WebWorks, a PC-based toolkit introduced in 2009, to create "hybrid" apps. The hybrid model is increasingly used also for Android and iOS: apps are developed with HTML5 and application frameworks and then packaged or wrapped in some native code for deployment on either a RIM smartphone or tablet, as if they were pure native apps. An embedded WebView, based on the Webkit engine, lets the hybrid app display HTML pages.

 

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