Building Business Apps with the BlackBerry Browser

As a BlackBerry developer, it makes sense that a majority — if not all — of the apps you create are business applications. That’s not likely to change in the near future. Fortunately, though, there are some great tools available to make your job easier.

Historically, BlackBerry devices have been marketed as business tools geared toward working professionals. Though some minor things have changed, such as the appearance of BlackBerry’s App World , which features a wide array of games for BlackBerry devices, it seems impossible to deny the fact that BlackBerries will forever be tied to the business world.

Building business apps using the BlackBerry browser has never been easier, as the architecture is simplistic and straightforward. The BlackBerry browser is a Java ME application, and according to Research in Motion, this is the operating system that has been a part of the company’s technology for almost ten years. As we all know, technology moves quickly, and many changes have been made to the browser over the past decade, but at its core, it is the same.

If you’ve been a BlackBerry developer for a while now, you already understand this. But for those of you who are new to the world of creating business applications for BlackBerry, it’s important to understand that BlackBerry’s latest browser (version v4.6) supports loads of markups and web 2.0 functions.

Why Build Business Apps with the BlackBerry Browser?

If you’re new to business application development for BlackBerry, the BlackBerry browser is the perfect place to start. Research in Motion, BlackBerry’s owner, works diligently to ensure that all developers who are new to the BlackBerry platform are able to start creating business applications immediately using the skills they already have. Essentially, the tools have been tailored to make it easy for new users to pick up without sacrificing any functionality.

Now for those of you who are already familiar with the platform, it also offers you powerful development potential. The BlackBerry Browser will enable your users to access business applications quickly and easily using BlackBerry’s web infrastructure.

{mospagebreak title=Making the Most of the Platform}

In order to make the most of BlackBerry’s platform, developers can leverage existing wireless connectivity and take advantage of more familiar web-based user interfaces. The fact that BlackBerry’s application data can pull the same wireless compression, encryption, connection, and infrastructure as its e-mail might be of extra interest to BlackBerry business app developers because it means that it’s no longer necessary to build extra networking functions. Now usually, browser-based apps act as traditional client/server deployments, but when using the BlackBerry browser to develop your apps, clients will already be familiar with the web-based interface because nothing is being deployed.

As already mentioned, version v4.6 of BlackBerry’s browser supports a wide array of markups and web 2.0 features, and these developments will prove to be particularly helpful to those wanting to create business applications with the browser. Business application developers for BlackBerry can count on the browser to support HTML, X-HTML-MP, and WML 1.3. It also supports the following image files: JPEG, GIF, PNG, and WBMP and complex presentation formats, such as Frames, RSS, and ATOM. The following scripting languages are also now supported: JavaScript (which includes Ajax support), ECMAScript, and WML Script 1.2.1.

Developing Business Apps using Eclipse

Developing business apps for the BlackBerry browser was already simple enough because it enabled developers to use standard web authoring tools with which they were probably already familiar. Things have gotten even easier, especially for developers familiar with Eclipse. A new BlackBerry web development plug-in for Eclipse was released earlier this month, and it’s seamlessly integrated with Eclipse 3.4. This new addition to the BlackBerry browser set of tools will enable developers to debug their browser-based business applications and content for BlackBerry handheld devices.

It also enables the ability to profile the code, and some could argue that it greatly increases efficiency because it allows developers to use Eclipse in a way that’s familiar to them. After all, utilizing the BlackBerry Browser’s Eclipse plug-in to develop your business applications doesn’t require learning any new programs or software. The Eclipse plug-in also assists with remote web development, debugging and profiling. The new Eclipse plug-in also comes with a BlackBerry smartphone simulator once it is downloaded. This, of course, will enable developers to immediately test their business applications and get them out to their users as quickly as possible.

{mospagebreak title=New BlackBerry Browser Enhancements with Eclipse}

Thanks to Eclipse, developers now have a variety of enhancements they can utilize when building their business applications with the BlackBerry browser. For example, they now have support for debugging their business applications with the use of the BlackBerry smartphone simulators. Developers can now also set breakpoints on JavaScript code and benefit from seamless integration with Debug, Variables, and Expressions views with the help of the Eclipse plug-in. With Eclipse’s profiling capabilities, developers can also benefit from visibility into the content of XMLHttpRequest requests and response data, as well as visibility into data traffic for web-based content, such as images, CSS, JavaScript, and HTML.

Final Notes on Building Business Apps with the BB Browser

If you are familiar with Java, chances are you’re not going to have any problems developing business applications using BlackBerry’s browser. Once you understand some of the following basic information, you can hit the ground running.

The BlackBerry platform is based on the CLDC, which includes support for MIDP 2.0. That being said, it’s important to point out that many BlackBerry-specific classes are also provided. Before you write your apps you’ll have to decide if you’re going to write a BlackBerry business application or a MIDP business app.

When developing a MIDP business application, you can only use the APIs exposed by the CLDC and MIDP standards. Your business app will run on BlackBerry handheld devices and on a limited number of other types of phones, but it won’t be able to utilize any special BlackBerry features.

It goes without saying that most BlackBerry developers choose to build BlackBerry-specific business applications. This, of course, requires that you learn BlackBerry-specific APIs, which includes new user interface classes and the BlackBerry Java Development Environment (JDE) in order to develop your business applications.

The JDE is free to download and works with the Java Software Development Kit. This will provide you with everything necessary to create, package, test and debug your BlackBerry business apps.

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