Developing the BlackBerry Browser

Those interested in becoming a BlackBerry developer, it’s of the utmost importance that you get to know the BlackBerry browser like the back of your hand. The good news is that the architecture for BlackBerry browser applications is quite simplistic and straightforward. Essentially, the BlackBerry browser is a Java ME application and according to BlackBerry, this particular application has been a part of the company’s technology for almost ten years.

Of course it’s only natural that the smartphones themselves have greatly improved over time and have been equipped with extra features like GPS and cameras. In terms of the browser- at its core, it is the same, but it’s important to point out that the browser’s features have been given a face-lift. As fast-paced as our world moves and as quickly as new technology develops, it’s very rare that anything technology-related remains pertinent after ten years- which explains the overhaul on RIM’s part.

The most up-to-date version of the BlackBerry browser is v4.7, but it may be worth it to note that the browser did go through a major evolution in its prior version, v4.6. The current version supports a wide array of markups and web 2.0 functionalities.   Big thanks are owed to Research in Motion because the company has almost guaranteed ease of use for developers by allowing them to take advantage of already-existing data connections. It is because of this that anyone interested in creating apps can be up and running in no time.  

In order to make the most of the BlackBerry platform, developers should leverage the already-existing wireless connectivity and take full advantage of other, perhaps more familiar web-based user interfaces. To make things even more convenient, BlackBerry’s application data can pull the same wireless compression, encryption, connection, and infrastructure as its e-mail, meaning it’s unnecessary to build extra networking functions. Also, because of the fact that browser-based applications act as traditional client/server deployments, clients and users will already be familiar with your web-based interface, because there is nothing to deploy.

One more note on the v4.6 before we get into a general overview of the BlackBerry browser specifications. As mentioned previously, v4.6 supports a wide array of markups and web 2.0 features. Because of these new developments, developers can count on the browser to support markup languages such as HTML, X-HTML-MP, WML 1.3; it can support image files such as JPEG, GIF, PNG, WBMP; it can support complex presentation formats such as Frames, RSS, and ATOM, and last by not least the new BlackBerry browser can also support scripting languages such a JavaScript (which includes Ajax support), ECMAScript, and WML Script 1.2.1. In addition, you are able to embed media content, including audio, video, and SVG into your webpage.

{mospagebreak title=Developing Applications for the BlackBerry Browser}

In most cases developing applications can seem overwhelming, as there’s often new software to learn and new tools to familiarize yourself with. Developing apps for the BlackBerry browser, however, will prove to be easy as it allows developers to use standard web authoring tools they’re already accustomed to. Technically, there are only two required development tools when developing BlackBerry Browser apps: the BlackBerry MDS simulator, which simulates network and server connectivity, as well as simulating the functionality provided by the BlackBerry Enterprise server (when needed).

The other necessary development tool is the BlackBerry device simulator, which has been described as a critical tool for BlackBerry development, as it enables developers to test their applications on various devices and operating systems. The new version of the BlackBerry Plugin for VS enables a user to be able to debug their client side scripting. The new version also removes the necessity for MDS simulator as well as for any device simulators that are separate from the tool. It comes with a simulator attached with the tool, and a developer can debug and run their sites off of that. And can also debug remote sites. You can also find this plug-in for Eclipse.

BlackBerry Browser Features

Information can be found online that details various web formats that the BlackBerry browser supports. It should also come as no surprise that depending on the BlackBerry software version being used, the features that are accessible will be different. For example, in the software version 3.2, bookmarks, a navigation history list, a cookie cache, a column view, and background downloading are all available features, while in software version 3.8, there is customizable bookmarks, and online form submission. The point being, of course, that each version of the browser software offers something a bit varied and builds upon the previous version.

BlackBerry Browser Content Views

When developing an application, the BlackBerry browser can display your content in a few different ways, but it depends on the device software you are using. The information will either be displayed in column view or page view for device software that is version 4.5 or earlier. It should be pointed out that column view is the default view, but in BlackBerry device software that is version 4.6 or later, page view is the default view.

It’s called column view for a reason – the reason being the fact that your content will be shown vertically in a column width on the screen and any content that exceeds the pre-determined column width will be wrapped. This also applies to table rows. If you’re using a device that supports framesets, the layout of the frameset will be ignored and instead, displayed as the content of each frame vertically in the order in which they’re encountered.

Originally, page view was introduced to BlackBerry’s line of device software in version 4.2.1 and it was intended for BlackBerry’s that featured a trackball, otherwise known as the “pearl” for which that particular BlackBerry got its name. Page view displays pages on a 1024×768 pixel canvas, which are the appropriate dimensions for displaying content specifically designed for computers. Essentially, page view scales the content down to fit the width of the screen. Basically, page view was designed with the intention of displaying desktop-orientated content in a BlackBerry browser window. Developers, keep this in mind: Any content that you created specifically for the BlackBerry browser should not be displayed in page view.

{mospagebreak title=Things to Keep in Mind when Developing Content for the BlackBerry Browser}

Much of developing pertains to a working knowledge of the software and tools you are utilizing, but a successful application will also focus on design. Your goal as a developer should be to design your content in a way that enables users to quickly find whatever it is they’re looking for. The tools BlackBerry provides can make this possible, if you know how to utilize them properly.

The most important thing to keep in mind is minimalism. You don’t want clutter and you definitely don’t want to include anything that doesn’t further the purpose of the web page. In other words, be as sparse as possible in order to avoid sending any unnecessary content. You simply want to include whatever is necessary for the user to complete their intended task and nothing more. Also, remember to place any and all important information as close to the top of the page as humanly possible. You want the information being searched for to be accessed as quickly as possible.

The speed at which users can access the information in your apps is one of the most important factors to consider and believe it or not, good design helps this process along. For example, in order to improve downloading and rendering speeds, you can use JavaScript and AJAX requests to render the page. The AJAX requests ultimately lead to an improved user experience because the wait times are drastically reduced. As you can see, the BlackBerry browser has a lot to offer developers; it’s just a matter of making the most of it. When developing applications, try to keep the users in mind or consider your needs as a user. As the saying goes, we want what we want when we want it and BlackBerry’s browser gives developers every opportunity to provide it.  

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