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Quick tips: Developing apps for the BlackBerry PlayBook

by Mike Kirkup

Research In Motion (RIM) recently announced the BlackBerry PlayBook, a tablet device that supports Flash Player 10.1 and HTML5 for browser graphics and animation. The PlayBook is equipped with a 7-inch multitouch screen; a 1GHz dual-core CPU; 1GB of RAM; and 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of storage. The device also sports two HD cameras (front- and rear-facing) along with high-quality speakers and a mini-HDMI port.

Of course, I love the look and feel (and speed) of the PlayBook. However, as director of Developer Relations at RIM, I am really excited about the PlayBook’s operating system and its ability to seamlessly and simultaneously run applications developed in different development environments without any impact on the end user.

In this article, I explain the capabilities of the BlackBerry Tablet OS, which powers the BlackBerry PlayBook, and provide a few tips on how to develop apps for the PlayBook using Adobe Flash Platform technologies.

Inside the BlackBerry Tablet OS

The new BlackBerry Tablet operating system installed on the BlackBerry PlayBook is optimized to take advantage of all the horsepower. We decided early in the design of the PlayBook that the operating system needed to be made for the tablet market. We saw how attempts to grow an existing smartphone operating system were not meeting the expectations of tablet users. Powering the BlackBerry Tablet OS is the QNX Neutrino real-time operating system (RTOS), which is a unique microkernel architecture that allows us to take advantage of all the hardware on the PlayBook to create an experience unrivaled in the market. QNX Neutrino RTOS is used in a wide range of mission-critical hardware, including cars, unmanned aircraft, MRI scanners, and nuclear reactors.

Development approaches

From a developer’s perspective, one of the most compelling features of the BlackBerry Tablet OS is its ability to seamlessly and simultaneously run applications developed in different development environments without any impact on the end user. This capability enables developers to leverage their existing skills and tools in any one of several popular development approaches. The BlackBerry Tablet OS will support four different approaches for application development:

The BlackBerry PlayBook is unique in that it offers a flexible development environment that allows developers to focus on creating a great experience for their users in the tools they know rather than being forced to learn new tools, languages, and skills to build their applications. On top of standalone application development, the device also supports both HTML5 and Flash Player 10.1 in the browser for an uncompromised web experience for both developers and users.

Exploring Adobe AIR support on BlackBerry PlayBook

We worked very closely with Adobe to ensure that the BlackBerry PlayBook is optimized to give you the best possible experience for both Flash and AIR applications. There are many innovations in our implementation of Adobe AIR that provide additional functionality to take advantage of PlayBook’s unique hardware and feature set:

To build an AIR application for the BlackBerry PlayBook, you can choose from three development approaches:

Adobe AIR mobile with ActionScript 3.0 extensions

If you already have an Adobe AIR application using the mobile profile, the majority of your code will work on the BlackBerry Tablet OS today. We created our own ActionScript extensions to provide user-interface components, support for gestures, multitouch, and multimedia. We have also created extensions for BlackBerry Services like the Payment Service, which allows you to sell digital goods within your application. A variety of vendors have ported their existing applications or assets to the BlackBerry Tablet OS in as little as a couple of hours using this approach. This is likely to be the fastest approach to bring your existing Flash and AIR applications to the platform.

Today you can download the Tablet OS SDK for Adobe AIR for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. A BlackBerry Tablet simulator is also available for download as a VMware virtual machine. The SDK includes both a plug-in for Adobe Flash Builder 4.0.1 and command-line tools.

The plug-in for Flash Builder gives developers a fully integrated development environment. Using the plug-in, you can package applications, deploy them to the simulator, and launch an interactive debugging session. When you are ready to distribute your application through App World, you can sign applications from inside Flash Builder.

The command-line tools enable you to write your ActionScript code in the development environment of your choice. You can use the Tablet OS SDK tools to package, sign, and deploy your application to the simulator or a device. To compile your ActionScript code and debug an application, you can use the command-line tools included with the Adobe AIR 2.5 SDK.

Flash Builder "Burrito"

In December, we released an updated version of our beta BlackBerry Tablet OS SDK for Adobe AIR that supports the Flash Builder “Burrito” beta. With the new tooling, we now support cross-platform user-interface components offered as part of the Flex mobile platform. Perhaps more importantly, you can take advantage of the built-in drag-and-drop user-interface builder to create visually rich applications for the BlackBerry PlayBook, right out of the box.

Flash Professional

For developers and designers who prefer to use Flash Professional, we are working on a plug-in to allow you to create applications for the BlackBerry PlayBook. Stay tuned to our developer blog for more information on timing and availability. In the meantime, you can package projects from Flash Professional using command-line tools provided with the SDK.

Adobe Flash Player 10.1

For existing Flash developers, the great news is that your web-based content and applications should work flawlessly in the browser on the BlackBerry PlayBook at launch. An updated version of the PlayBook simulator, to be released soon, will allow Flash developers to test their applications in the browser. For Flash developers who want to package their existing Flash assets as a standalone application, you can use the packaging, signing, and deployment tools discussed earlier to create your own AIR application, and begin to monetize your implementation through BlackBerry App World.

Getting started resources

One of the highlights of publicizing the BlackBerry PlayBook and the accompanying BlackBerry Tablet OS has been the opportunity to work more closely with the great developers in Adobe’s community. I’m constantly amazed by what application developers are already building on this platform. We would be delighted to work with you to bring your new or existing applications to the PlayBook, and we have an incredible incentive to help encourage you. At Adobe MAX, Mike Lazaridis announced a very exciting offer: If you submit your application to BlackBerry App World before February 1 and have it accepted for sale, RIM will ship you a free BlackBerry PlayBook. You can find out more details on the free PlayBook offer at www.blackberry.com/developers/blackberryplaybookoffer.

Adobe and RIM have a variety of resources to help both new and experienced developers get started building applications for the BlackBerry PlayBook using Adobe AIR:

I look forward to working with you to help you create amazing applications on the BlackBerry PlayBook. We have already been blown away by many of the applications created by the Adobe developer community, and I am sure that we are just getting started.

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Mike Kirkup is director of Developer Relations at Research in Motion.