BlackBerry PlayBook

Excitement was building up as the Developer Relations team at RIM provided answers to the tough questions we developers had the chance to ask on Twitter. With the keyword #AskBBDev (Mike Kirkup and Alex Kinsella set out to satisfy developers' thirst for information. As one of these developers, I submitted a couple of questions too - twenty in fact - and one of them was given a prompt answer, which both you and I will definitely look forward to. I asked whether the BlackBerry PlayBook will support USB host capabilities, to which I received the following response: "USB Host support will not be available at launch. We are investigating adding this in a future release."

If the term ‘USB host' is not clear to you, in all simplicity it allows a device (most commonly a computer) to be connected to another device with both devices communicating with each other. For example, if you connect a digital camera to your computer, the camera itself becomes a slave, while your computer acts as the host. When connected like this, your computer (host) is able to access the pictures stored on your camera (slave). Two hosts can be connected to each other as well, as a host device will happily function as a slave, but the opposite is not true - one slave can not communicate with another slave (very tyrant, I know). As devices have become more advanced, however, it has become more common to incorporate host-like features to slave devices. This is also known as USB On-The-Go, which allows a typical slave device to function as a (limited) host.

When a device with USB On-The-Go support is connected to a slave device (such as a digital camera), it allows for communication between the two devices without the presence of a computer. Prime example, the Apple iPad does so with the iPad Camera Connection Kit. Of course, USB On-The-Go is not limited to digital cameras only, but can be extended to numerous other devices as well, such as portable audio interfaces, external hard disk drives, et cetera. It will be very interesting to see the implementation of USB On-The-Go on the BlackBerry PlayBook, but that alone was not the only interesting point made. #AskBBDev brought with it some other exciting things, too.

Of most interest is probably the announcement that developer devices are being shipped out as soon as possible, worldwide. It was also verified that the BlackBerry PlayBook will support GPS and geolocation services natively, without the requirement of a tethered BlackBerry smartphone. And while we are on topic on tethering, Mike Kirkup said that tethering a BlackBerry smartphone to a BlackBerry PlayBook (through BlackBerry Bridge) will enable support for email, calendar, contacts, MemoPad, BBM and access to the file system. Lastly, while developers can not write their own custom keyboard for the BlackBerry PlayBook today, RIM is willing to investigate this possibility for addition in the future. Sounds good, if you ask me!

As far as software development kits (SDKs) go, the geolocation, camera and video APIs are available now in BlackBerry Tablet OS SDK 0.9.4 for AIR, but on a live device only. What this translates to, is that developers can finally embrace the full potential of the BlackBerry PlayBook once the tablet is in their hands. In addition, gyroscope APIs are currently limited to the Native SDK, but RIM is looking into making it available to AIR and WebWorks applications as well - the Native SDK is slated for a beta release in summer, stay tuned. Also, if you are wondering what that sweet little MicroHDMI port can do for you, it was made clear that it can be used for mirroring on-screen action or to display custom imagery to your heart's content; that is what the Video API is most likely for.

Now that the free BlackBerry PlayBook offer has ended, developers with accepted applications will be relieved to hear that a gold release of the AIR and WebWorks development tools are going to be released before launch. And should you live outside North America - as I do - there is no need to wait for commercial availability in your country. Just lean back and relax, the devices are coming eventually!

Let's talk BlackBerry App World for a moment. A point of confusion that was raised deals with the handling of BlackBerry smartphone and tablet applications in BlackBerry App World; are they separated into their own categories, for example. Alex Kinsella provided a clear answer that when accessed from the BlackBerry PlayBook, the only applications displayed in BlackBerry App World are those compatible with your device. And to clean up the experience a bit, RIM is going to deal with spam reviews and other inappropriate entries in the near future.

Customer experience is only half of the story, though, and RIM has a few tricks up its sleeve for App World Vendors, too - the next major BlackBerry App World release will include notifications for every sale or download of your application(s). Talk about a great way to keep up with the life cycle of your application! I can only imagine how a ‘blip' makes my day knowing that someone downloaded my application. What do you think?

As questions came in a fast pace, here is one that I picked up out of interest: is there any limitation to the application size that may be submitted to BlackBerry App World? For BlackBerry smartphones, the limit is 8MB, but for the BlackBerry PlayBook, the sky's the limit... okay, I lied: no limit other than the available memory on the device, that is. In other words, developers may implement graphically intensive applications that take up as much space as needed - this should answer your question on the probability of the BlackBerry PlayBook becoming the next big thing in gaming, no?

Oh, while we are talking games, did I mention that Tetris is preloaded on every BlackBerry PlayBook? It is! Bye bye BrickBreaker, I guess ;-)