Lack of BlackBerry migration no bar for RIM PlayBook developers

RIM's murky stance on migrating BlackBerry apps to its new tablet doesn't faze would-be developers seeking a larger screen, more horsepower

Although the full application development story is still being ironed out for Research in Motion's newly announced PlayBook tablet, developers are anxious to get their hands on one and start building anyway.

They also will continue to build for BlackBerry while waiting for more details about developing for the PlayBook, developers tell InfoWorld. "I'd love to have it," says Mehdi Rachdi, a developer at mobile marketing firm Adenyo.

[ InfoWorld's Martin Heller shows how the BlackBerry IDEs are a mixed bag. | RIM's PlayBook is no Apple iPad killer, InfoWorld's Galen Gruman asserts. ]

Multiple development environments available
So far, RIM has made it clear developers can use the company's WebWorks platform for development, which leverages their Web development skills. Web developers can also use Adobe Flash Player 10.1 to run their applications and Adobe AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) -- both of which are banned on the competing Apple iPad and iPhone.

Developers also can build native applications for PlayBook using C and C++ -- a path that game developers are likely to take, says Mike Kirkup, RIM's director of developer relations.

PlayBook's support of AIR bolsters its application arsenal, says Al Hilwa, an IDC analyst. "That promises to be one of the fastest ways to get a big portfolio of apps to the PlayBook in the short term," with 5,000 to 10,000 AIR applications available, he says, because "in theory, these are really easy to port once Adobe AIR is available on the PlayBook."

RIM is mum on support plan for Java ME apps
But questions remain about how developers can bring over Java-based BlackBerry 6 applications and RIM's precise Java plans. "We're still working out how we're going to enable the community to do that," says RIM's Kirkup. But some sort of path-to-app portability or easy migration is the goal, he says: "We want to help developers leverage the investments [in existing applications]."

RIM's approach to splitting the tablet platform from the BlackBerry platform is opposite the "one OS, multiple devices" approach used by Apple for the iPad and iPhone (both use the iOS) and the approach used by Google for Android devices.

The proprietary BlackBerry 6 application stack leverages Java Micro Edition (Java ME) as a base language. But Kirkup would not reveal RIM's Java ME application plans for the PlayBook.

PlayBook will use the Posix-compliant BlackBerry Tablet OS, built on the QNX Neutrino microkernel architecture that RIM acquired earlier this year.

Developers eager despite the uncertainties
Despite the uncertainties about the PlayBook's application development environment, developers can't wait to get started.

"It's a very interesting gadget because we are [building] enterprise applications. We have several applications that need a bigger screen," says John Bibal, a senior software engineer at Novare.

The company will continue building for BlackBerry while waiting for PlayBook development tools, Bibal says. At this point, Novare is leaning toward using WebWorks for PlayBook but is also looking to port existing Java applications from BlackBerry to PlayBook. "We just have to wait for the SDK," he notes.

Jason Silva, a developer at mobile business application firm JBB Mobile, is also interested in the PlayBook but plans to keep building for BlackBerry, even if the PlayBook is a separate platform. "I look at them as two separate devices," he says.

Silva is attracted to the PlayBook's larger screen as well as to its graphic capabilities, both of which should prove useful in field service applications, he notes. Silva also likes PlayBook's use of the QNX technology. "The QNX operating system is obviously something that a lot of developers are excited about because it's a real-time OS, which means it's going to be really, really quick," he says.

This article, "Lack of BlackBerry migration no bar for RIM PlayBook developers," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in programming and mobile technology at InfoWorld.com.

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