Research In Motion will give developers tools to build Web applications that work offline, expanding beyond the Java platform that has been at the core of BlackBerry applications until now, the company said Tuesday.
Support for the Gears Web application framework and other tools will help to make Web applications into "first-class citizens" on the BlackBerry, said Alan Brenner, senior vice president of the BlackBerry Platform, at the company's first developer conference.
An audience of hundreds of developers applauded Brenner's announcement. Java has been the foundation of applications on the BlackBerry, but with the maturing of the mobile Web with faster networks and full Web browsers, it is becoming a major platform for smartphone software.
Also Tuesday, RIM said it will add support for SQL Lite for tying BlackBerry applications into relational databases, with the capability to keep using the applications offline with Java. Developers will also be able to use Web Signals to make their applications deliver live icons to the home screen of the device that give quick information updates and let the user click to get more details.
In another move that could open up new possibilities to BlackBerry developers, RIM will expose the APIs (application programming interfaces) for its push technology that has made the BlackBerry a hit with instantly available e-mail. This will let third-party developers create their own push applications for the platform, though the APIs will be rolled out only gradually over several quarters.
RIM would roll out its APIs more quickly but is concerned about security, said David Yach, CTO for software. The company is concerned that exposing APIs might expose potential holes, he said.
"All of us ... are in a world of hurt if there's some serious security problems on the BlackBerry," Yach said.
Also on Tuesday, RIM followed the lead of Apple's App Store with the BlackBerry Application Storefront, where developers can sell their applications directly to consumers. It is expected to become available in March. Through a partnership announced Tuesday with PayPal, buyers will be able to use the popular online payment service at the store.
The expanded development and delivery options come as RIM focuses on extending its powerful brand from the enterprise world to consumers.
"The consumer wireless data market is taking off, and that's the opportunity to all of you today," said Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO. Demonstrations at the event on Tuesday leaned heavily toward the consumer side, including the Gameday baseball news application from Major League Baseball's MLB.com and Dipdive, a social music and content-sharing application that was presented by Will.i.am of the pop group Black-Eyed Peas.