What You Need to Know to Get Started as a BlackBerry Developer

BlackBerries, on more than once occasion, have been called the phones of the future. In a world where multi-tasking has become a necessary life skill, that factoid should come as no surprise. People need their phones to be as multi-functional as possible, and a phone that simply makes phone calls is a thing of the past. Thanks to BlackBerry, a “smartphone” has become a necessary tool in the development and general maintenance of both small businesses and major corporations. This is where BlackBerry developers come into play. Whether it is your intention to leverage the standards-based BlackBerry platform and developer tools to create applications that are just right for your organization or you’re looking to branch out and create solutions for other companies, there are a few things you should know before you begin to seriously consider becoming a BlackBerry developer.

Research in Motion (RIM), which is a leading designer, manufacturer, and marketer of innovative wireless solutions for the worldwide mobile communications market, also happens to be the company responsible for BlackBerry. The BlackBerry Curve is currently America’s best-selling smartphone, and because of that, RIM has gained a major competitive edge in the consumer smartphone market. Now, many have claimed that the BlackBerry platform is too enterprise-focused for applications, but if you take a look at AppWorld, and the plethora of everyday applications available to the user, you will know that that is not the case.

Resources

Before we get into specifics, it’s important to point out that new developers have a wealth of information available at their fingertips. Sure, there are countless blogs, message boards, and websites devoted to being a BlackBerry developer, but why not go to the source? BlackBerry has a specific site dedicated to helping developers find their footing in what could otherwise feel like an overwhelming and complicated task. It’s called the BlackBerry Developer Zone.

The site serves as a comprehensive resource for developing BlackBerry applications. It covers every base, from overviews of the browser development architecture to the BlackBerry App World Storefront, where developers can showcase their apps to millions of BlackBerry smartphone users simply by submitting an application.

The site recommends that those new to mobile development learn the basics of how to create cutting-edge mobile applications by browsing through featured tutorials such as Mobile Development 101 and BlackBerry development approaches. This “zone” will prove to be an excellent resource for anyone just getting started as a BlackBerry app developer.

{mospagebreak title=Get Your Java On}

All development for recent BlackBerry models is done exclusively in Java. Here’s how it works: an integrated development environment (IDE) is also sometimes called an integrated design environment or integrated debugging environment. An IDE provides comprehensive facilities to computer programmers for software development, and usually consists of a source code editor, compiler and/or interpreter, build automation tools, and a debugger. The BlackBerry Java Development Environment (BlackBerry JDE) is a fully integrated development environment and simulation tool for building Java Micro Edition applications for Java-based BlackBerry smartphones. You can create web applications without knowing Java, but to create truly feature-rich client based applications, you will want to brush up on your Java.

Those of you that are C# programmers will probably find the transition to Java fairly simple, because the languages are very similar in many respects. As a developer, it is not necessary to learn the newest Java features because the BlackBerry platform is built on top of Java Micro Edition (Java ME), which is itself a derivative of Java version 1.3. Thankfully, you can clear your mind of all things related to generics, enumerations, etc. because you can’t use these in BlackBerry programming anyhow. Also, you probably won’t be able to use a number of the library classes you’re familiar with because they’re simply not there. That being said, small subsets of the Java Standard Edition (Java SE) classes are supported, along with a number of BlackBerry-specific classes.

Once you’ve brushed up on your Java, it would be a very good idea to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the Java ME platform, which was formerly known as Java 2 Micro Edition or “J2ME” for short. Focus on understanding the concepts of configurations and profiles, as well as the CLDC and mobile information device profile (MIDP) standards. The design process for MIDP applications, which are small Java programs for portable devices like cell phones, largely resembles designing software for any platform. With MIDP, however, you’ll manage a few points in the design process a bit differently.

Developing for the Web

It should be pointed out that you can also use BlackBerry technology to develop for the web. There is a BlackBerry Web Development Plug-in for Microsoft Visual Studio that can provide developers with the tools necessary to profile, debug and test code within the Microsoft Visual Studio development environment. With these highly useful BlackBerry web development plug-ins, developers are able to use tools they’re already familiar with for web development, while also working with the BlackBerry plug-ins that enable them to further develop code and test it in the BlackBerry browser.

Developers can also use the smartphone simulator to load and test their web pages in the BlackBerry browser. The BlackBerry Smartphone Simulator includes the BlackBerry device apps that are usually available on BlackBerry phones. Also, by using the Microsoft Visual Studio, developers can debug, set break points, and step through inline JavaScript in HTML documents.

{mospagebreak title=Get Acquainted with the BlackBerry Platform}

What comes next is pretty obvious: it’s time to explore the BlackBerry platform. Perhaps “explore” is the wrong word; it’s time to make the platform your best friend. The BlackBerry platform is based on the CLDC and includes support for MIDP 2.0., but a large number of BlackBerry-specific classes are also provided.

When dealing with the BlackBerry platform you’ll be faced with a pretty straightforward question: are you going to write a BlackBerry application or a MIDP application? As mentioned previously, writing an MIDP app is a bit different, and you’ll be forced to use the APIs exposed by the CLDC and MIDP standards. Essentially this means that your application will run on the BlackBerry and on most cell phones, but it won’t be able to use any of the BlackBerry’s special features.

It goes without saying that most application developers opt to build BlackBerry-specific applications. This means that learning the BlackBerry-specific APIs, such as new user interface classes and using the BlackBerry Java Development Environment (JDE) to develop your applications, is almost mandatory. I say almost, because you could opt to use BlackBerry JDE plug-in for Eclipse, which offers you a more familiar way to create your apps if you are already used to developing in the Eclipse IDE.

You can also use the JDE, which is free to download, works with the standard Java Software Development Kit and provides you with all the tools necessary to create, package, test, and debug BlackBerry apps. Interestingly enough, you don’t even need a BlackBerry handheld, because the JDE and JDE Eclipse plug-in both include a full-featured BlackBerry device simulator. Also, a complete set of JavaDocs is provided, which describes all the classes and interfaces available to programmers.

After downloading and installing the JDE, you’ll want to read the developer’s guides that accompany the development environment and look at the sample applications that are shipped with it. Afterward, it should be fairly simple to begin developing your own apps by writing a few simple applications just to get a feel for the BlackBerry APIs and its tools.

This is obviously a broad overview and general information for the fledgling BlackBerry developer. If you are interested in learning more, you may wish to check out the Handheld Device Developer Forums, as well as the tutorials posted here; once you have done a little more research, I think you will find developing apps for your BlackBerry is a fairly simple process.

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