Well, it took just under two years and quite a bit of marketshare loss, but I found some time to release my long promised native BlackBerry application for Metro-North commuter train schedules.
You can download NYC North Trains for free, over-the-air. I’ve tested it on OS 5 and 6 devices such as the Curve, Style, Storm 2, Bold, Tour and Torch.
Like the simple Web interface I’ve provided for nearly five years, the native app offers an interface to the MTA schedule data optimized for mobile devices.
However, it also offers some features that make the experience quite a bit more convenient for BlackBerry users.
- Simple schedule selection using BlackBerry dropdowns and date picker
- The ability to save your preferred origin and destination (and toggle them depending on which way you’re going)
- Ability to email the schedule results from the device
- Ability to save a particular departure to your calendar to block your travel time
Of course, this application comes with the standard disclaimer.
Not affiliated with the MTA or the States of New York and Connecticut. This tool uses live information directly from mta.info, so schedules are always based on the latest available information. This tool retains no copies of schedule information from the MTA.
Early in 2009 I decided to start writing Java applications for BlackBerry devices.
I’ll tell you why I chose this particular smartphone platform and how three books that I later received as review copies from Apress can help you get started too.
I’ll also share some thoughts on a gap I see in the BlackBerry developer’s bookshelf.
BlackBerry leads US smartphone market share
With the Apple iPhone garnering all the the mobile application exposure, it’s easy to see why RIM’s BlackBerry devices get less developer attention these days.
However, BlackBerry devices still hold a larger share of the smartphone market than either the iPhone or Android devices.
According to comScore, RIM comprises about 40% of devices sold, with Apple at 25% and Google at around 10%. The iPod and iPad aren’t included in this category, of course.
Other reasons I chose to develop for the BlackBerry platform
Besides the sizable marketshare, there are three major reasons that I’ve been learning to build BlackBerry apps over the past year or so.
- My wife and I have owned several personal BlackBerry devices over the years and continue to use them daily.
- Java development is a major part of my day job and it’s nice to reuse those skills on a new platform.
- I work for a company that uses the BlackBerry Enterprise Server to manage its mobile workforce and therefore I already have a sizable audience of users to target for new projects beyond standard Web applications.
Where to start?
When I started learning about the BlackBerry platform there weren’t that many recent books on the market, which surprised me.
Instead, I needed to learn what I could through trial and error and the help of the large, but somewhat disjointed, collection of official documentation from RIM on the BlackBerry Developer Zone.
While there is a lot of material there, it’s hard to understand what’s most relevant and up-to-date, and what sort of roadmap the beginner should follow to learn the platform given those resources.
Getting started gets much easier
Fortunately, the BlackBerry book landscape has improved in the past few months, but the number of new releases still pales in comparison with the glut of iPhone development titles on the market.
I’ve had a chance to work through a few of these new books, two of which Apress provided me for free as review copies, and another that I have access to via Books24x7 thanks to my place of employment.
I suppose it’s only slightly ironic that as I read the latter book online, I wished I had an iPad to curl up with rather than a run-of-the-mill laptop or smartphone. :)
Apress book overview
By all indications, Apress has emerged as the leading publisher of BlackBerry books in late 2009 going into 2010. In particular, the first title below is one that would have saved me a lot of time when I got started early in 2009.
In any case, I can recommend any of these books, but obviously they all have their own target audience and don’t necessarily need to be read in sequence.
Also, keep in mind that these books focus on the development of native Java applications rather than tailoring Web sites to the BlackBerry browser.
- Beginning BlackBerry Development by Anthony Rizk.
This book provides an excellent introduction to the key topics that most interest a Java developer new to the platform.
It covers the basics of setting up an IDE, putting together a user interface, using local storage, making network connections, using GPS, and distributing your application. All the steps are approached in an easy to follow tutorial format.
- Advanced BlackBerry Development by Chris King.
This book covers some of the same ground as the title above but takes a deep dive into audio and video development, text and email messaging, encryption and access control, and integration with the BlackBerry operating system and its built in applications such as the Address Book, Calendar, and Browser.
It also provides valuable lessons on packaging your application for many different BlackBerry models and carriers and automating the build, versioning and deployment processes.
- Learn BlackBerry Games Development by Carol Hamer and Andrew Davison.
While this book’s subject matter has less in common with the type of business applications I write, it was an interesting read.
There’s even a thoroughly geeky chapter on using a BlackBerry connected to a PC via BlueTooth to drive a toy car attached to the computer by USB.
What’s also nice about these books – and what sets them apart from the official RIM documentation – is that they are pretty straightforward about the limitations of the platform and can be quite frank with their assessments of certain capabilities.
What I’d like to see in upcoming books
I set a goal for myself to deepen my BlackBerry skills this year. One of the best ways that I’ve found to thoroughly understand a platform – even one that you’ve been using for years – is to attempt certification or at least know the study materials inside-and-out.
Given how new the exams are, there aren’t yet any guides on the market to help the candidate pass both exams needed for certification.
Addison Wesley’s BlackBerry Development Fundamentals by John M. Wargo claims to be a good guide for the prerequisite exam (BCP-810), but does not cover the second exam on either Java (BCP-811) or Web development (BCX-812, understandably, which is still in beta).
Given that RIM’s study guides are so sparse, I see a great opportunity for any publisher to hit the market with a certification guide on these two exams in 2010.
If you’re looking to get into Java development for BlackBerry smartphones, I recommend you at least have a look at Beginning BlackBerry Development.
Finally, I recommend you keep an eye out for news from the WES conference next week. I hope RIM gives developers even more compelling reasons to look at the BlackBerry platform.