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Getting Started with the BlackBerry Mobile Development Platform

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BlackBerry Devices

All BlackBerry devices are smartphones, which means that they offer a network connection, a relatively powerful processor, and a decent keyboard. However, individual devices can vary greatly. There are dozens of BlackBerry device models, and keeping track of their individual features can feel like a chore.

Fortunately, RIM uses a fairly standard numbering convention to describe its devices. Most have model numbers with four digits, such as the 8320 or the 9530. The first two digits are a series number that describes the physical look of the device. The 8300, 8310, and 8320 will all have the same keyboard and the same screen resolution, for example. The final two digits are a model number that describes the radio capabilities of a device. The 8300 and 8800 are both GSM devices; the 8110 and 8310 are GSM devices with GPS receivers; 8320 and 8820 are both GSM devices with WiFi; and so on.

BlackBerry devices have traditionally featured full QWERTY keyboards, and most still do. The Pearl line of phones use a variant keyboard called SureType that acts like a cross between QWERTY and a multitap phone keyboard. The Storm series of touch-screen phones use a virtual onscreen keyboard. Most non-touch devices use a trackball, and some recent devices offer a trackpad.

All recent devices feature microphones and removable memory cards for expanded storage. Some devices may include features like cameras, accelerometers, and Bluetooth, while others lack them. If your application requires particular hardware support, you should first verify which BlackBerry devices offer your required features. No BlackBerry devices currently offer a compass, although they do provide ways to derive the user's bearings from recent GPS readings.

BlackBerry Development Costs

The price of BlackBerry development has dropped in recent years. You no longer need to spend anything to access the SDK and simulators, and you can complete most of your development without an actual device.

After you build your BlackBerry application, you should sign it. Signing allows you to access restricted APIs on the device, and it also prevents the user from seeing annoying pop-ups when running your app. At the time of writing, signing keys cost $20 and you must wait several days for RIM to deliver them. When you have your keys, you can sign as many applications as you want to as frequently as you like.

In terms of distributing your app, there is no charge for doing it yourself. If you wish to sell through RIM's BlackBerry App World, you will need to pay $200 to establish your account, which will allow you to submit up to 10 applications. Application updates and re-submissions count against your limit, and after you reach 10, you must pay another $200 to submit another 10 applications, and so on.

RIM hosts the BlackBerry Alliance Program for Independent Software Vendors. While joining the alliance program is not required for development, this program does offer support that may be helpful for companies starting out on the BlackBerry platform. Annual membership fees range from $2000 to $5000, with the higher levels offering more marketing support and earlier access to pre-release devices.


This concludes our look at how to get started with BlackBerry development. The next and final installment will examine resources for completing your app development and information on how to distribute and market your apps.

Chris King is a senior software engineer at Gravity Mobile. He is the author of "Advanced BlackBerry Development" and a co-author of "Unlocking Android, Second Edition." When he isn't programming or writing for fun or profit, Chris can be found reading, baking, cycling, or hiking throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

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This article was originally published on July 23, 2010

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