BlackBerry Java Application Development

By Bill Foust
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  1. Introducing BlackBerry Application Development

About this book

BlackBerry Smartphone was once the domain of jet-setting business users with power suits. Now you can hardly go anywhere without seeing someone using a BlackBerry to check their messages or make a call. It's this kind of explosive growth that makes the BlackBerry ecosystem a great place to develop and market applications through the BlackBerry App World store—this book shows you how to do just that!

This step-by-step guide gives you a hands-on experience of developing innovative Java applications for your BlackBerry. With the help of this book, you will learn to build your own applications to illustrate the platform, and the various capabilities that developers can use in their programs. It explores the powers of Blackberry and helps you develop professional and impressive Java applications.

The book teaches how to write rich, interactive, and smart BlackBerry applications in Java. It expects the readers to know Java but not Java Mobile or the BlackBerry APIs. We will learn to build rich, interactive, and smart Java applications for the BlackBerry. The book will cover UI programming, data storage, programming network, and internet API apps. As we move on, we will learn more about the BlackBerry's device features, such as messaging, GPS, multimedia, contacts and calendar, and so on.
This book also helps you build your own applications to illustrate the platform, and the various capabilities that developers can use in their programs.

Publication date:
July 2010


Chapter 1. Introducing BlackBerry Application Development

The BlackBerry family of devices has long been the undisputed king of e-mail for business professionals. In recent years, the company that makes BlackBerry handhelds, Research In Motion (RIM), has been making devices targeted more towards consumers with devices such as the Storm and Pearl. Because of this shift the demand for quality applications has exploded in recent years. The creation of the BlackBerry App World has only fueled this growth and the size of the opportunity. According to recent statistics, the BlackBerry App World has the fewest number of titles and the highest average cost, all of which means there is a big opportunity here!

Now, with more than 28 million subscribers and 60 million devices manufactured, it is hard to go anywhere and not see someone using a BlackBerry. Maybe you see these numbers as a fertile market for your application, or maybe your company has long ago standardized on BlackBerry handhelds and you want to leverage that existing investment. Either way, you will learn how to tap into that potential and create custom applications for BlackBerry handhelds by using the object-oriented development experience you already have.

In this chapter, we shall:

  • Learn about the two approaches to application development

  • Learn generally what features can be used by an application

  • Understand how the SDK version relates to target devices

  • Learn about the BlackBerry Developer Zone

So let's get on with it...


Expectations of this book

This book is part of the Basic series which means we will start at the very beginning of the learning curve. We start with the simplest task of getting the right tools downloaded and installed. We then take you through to the final stages of putting the last finishing touches on your application and then submitting it to the BlackBerry App World so that the world can use it. Along the way, we will cover each of the major areas of application development: user interface, storage, connectivity, and interfacing with other applications in ways that are clear and useful.

There are a few things that we assume and that you should be familiar with before starting down this road. The first is an understanding of an object-oriented programming language. BlackBerry development is done using Java, but you don't need to be a Java expert to get started. Experience in C#, C++, or some other object-oriented language is enough to get started.

Most of what we do will use the BlackBerry-specific APIs, but there are times when an understanding of basic Java framework is important, such as when we need to use threads. For this I recommend having a Java book available as well.

The second is an understanding of general operating system concepts such as a file system, messaging, events, processes, and threading. The BlackBerry APIs actually do a very good job of hiding many of these details, but they are there and understanding them will help to understand the big picture.


General device capabilities

BlackBerry handhelds, like many smartphones today, are very powerful in spite of their small size. The processing power and capabilities of these handhelds could accurately be described as smaller versions of our desktops or laptops. They have many strong capabilities yet have a small size that makes them convenient to carry around. This combination makes smartphones in general, and BlackBerry handhelds in particular, well suited for on-the-go applications.

But just what can they do? There are so many possibilities! Let's take a look at the general capabilities of BlackBerry handhelds.

  • Every handheld has a keyboard designed for typing on it. BlackBerry handhelds have always been specifically designed to send and receive e-mail, and as a result, the keyboards are well-suited for entering free-form data. The BlackBerry SDK offers no less than ten different kinds of text fields that can be used in nearly any kind of application. Plus, if you need something special, you can always create your own!

  • Another area that BlackBerry handhelds excel at is network connectivity. Again, this is by design in order to provide excellent e-mail service. This connectivity includes fully encrypted TCP/IP communication, and the ability to receive as well as send raw data. Whether it be HTTP or UDP, the BlackBerry SDK supports all of the major networking protocols and can handle receiving as well as sending data. Furthermore, you can leverage the same secure protocols that are used to deliver e-mail.

  • Most applications will need to store data on the local device. Applications can, of course, store data on the device in their own private stores, but they can also access and interface with other applications on the handheld. These include the pre-installed applications such as messages, address book, and calendar that come with the handheld.

  • Cameras are nearly ubiquitous on smartphones and can be accessed by an application as well.

  • Many newer devices include removable memory card slots for storage of large media files. Applications can access this storage as well to give applications with large storage needs the room to work.

  • Another feature that is extremely common on handhelds is a GPS receiver that enables location-based service (LBS). This is one area that many in the smartphone industry will say holds the most promise for the future.


Two different approaches to application development

If you've visited the BlackBerry Developer website you may have noticed that there are two recommended approaches to developing applications for BlackBerry handhelds—Java Application Development and BlackBerry Web Development. This book is focused on the Java Application Development approach, which is the more versatile of the two, but the other can be very useful in the right situation.

  • Java Application Development approach: This is the most powerful approach and it creates applications written in Java that are loaded onto and executed on a BlackBerry handheld. They will be the focus of this book and are one of the most common ways to deploy an application. Two different tools exist to support this approach—the BlackBerry Java Development Environment (JDE) and the BlackBerry JDE Component Plug-in for Eclipse. Both offer the ability to create full custom applications. The BlackBerry JDE is a custom application written in Java that can be used to develop applications. The latter leverages the Eclipse Integrated Development Environment (IDE), which is a common platform for Java developers.

  • BlackBerry Web Development approach: It is the other approach that runs completely within the BlackBerry Browser application and can use various standards such as HTML and AJAX. Applications created using the BlackBerry Web Development approach are similar to more common web applications and generally require network connectivity to work. More powerful features, including native API calls, aren't allowed natively but can be made using BlackBerry Widgets. BlackBerry Widgets is a separate SDK for creating small applets that can be leveraged by web applications. Overall, this approach can be powerful but it requires network connectivity, which potentially means data charges and/or delays for network communication.


Choosing an SDK version

Before we dive into developing an application we must choose the SDK version to work with. In most environments, this choice is very simple—just choose the most recent version and use that one. Unfortunately, things are not as simple for BlackBerry handhelds. In fact, it's the opposite.

There is a correlation between the handheld Operating System (OS) version and the SDK version. Each time a new version of the device OS is released, a new version of the SDK is released to go along with it. As new devices are released and more capabilities are added to them, the OS must grow to take advantage of the new capabilities. Similarly, the SDK must also grow. It makes sense that SDK version 4.2 won't be able to utilize features added in OS version 4.5. The downside to this is that applications written using version 4.5 of the SDK won't run on handhelds with a version 4.2 OS, but the opposite is true. Applications written using 4.2 will run just fine on a handheld running version 4.5 of the OS.

Therefore, choosing the SDK version to work with becomes a matter of choosing the lowest common OS version for the devices you want to support or, more commonly, the features that they support.

While it is possible for a handheld to upgrade the OS from one version to the other it is rarely done and should never be assumed. Also, unfortunately, this can mean multiple code bases if you wish to support each device in a way that is specific to that device. It all depends on the application you want to write.

For the majority of the applications that we will make we will be using SDK version 4.5 simply because this is the version that comes bundled with Eclipse.

The following table lists devices, the OS version they were released with, and what important features are new to that version:

Device released

SDK version

Features supported

BlackBerry 5810

BlackBerry 5820


Initial release

MIDP 1.0

CLDC 1.0

BlackBerry 6200 series

BlackBerry 6500 series

BlackBerry 6700 series



Mail API

BlackBerry 7200 series

BlackBerry 7700 series


Color support

BlackBerry 7100

BlackBerry 7290


MIDP 2.0

CLDC 1.1


BlackBerry 7510

BlackBerry 7520


JSR-179 (Location-based services)

BlackBerry 8700

BlackBerry 7130

BlackBerry 7100i


Smart Card APIs

BlackBerry Pearl


Multimedia Focus

JSR-75 (File APIs)

BlackBerry 8800 series


JSR-82 (Bluetooth)

BlackBerry Pearl 8110

BlackBerry Pearl 8120

BlackBerry Pearl 8130


JSR-172 (Web services)

JSR-205 (Multimedia SMS)

JSR-211 (Content Handler API)

JSR-238 (Internationalization)



Map Field


HTML e-mail

BlackBerry Curve 8900

BlackBerry Bold


JSR-226 (SVG Support)



Accessibility API

BlackBerry Storm


Touch Screen


BlackBerry Storm 2

BlackBerry Bold 9700


Widgets API

MIDP 2.1


What you can expect

This book is structured to take you from beginning to end in terms of application development and touch on all the most important topics along the way. You will learn about each aspect of application development from the very basics of simply installing the tools that you will need to the last steps of submitting your application to BlackBerry App World.

We do assume that you are familiar with an object-oriented programming language already. Syntactically and conceptually, Java is very similar to C# and even C++, so someone experienced in either of these languages should be able to make the transition to Java quickly.

This book starts at the very beginning with downloading and installing the tools necessary to start creating an application. This isn't quite as simple as performing a single install, but it's not too complex either.

In the next few chapters, we'll dive right in by loading and compiling one of the demo applications that comes with the tools. This gives you an opportunity to get more familiar with the development environment and by examining the typical "Hello World!" application in detail.

Then we start from scratch with a brand new empty project and create an application. This simple application is both very functional and very polished, which demonstrates how you can create applications quickly by leveraging the framework provided in the SDK.

We will look at this framework in detail by thoroughly examining all of the screen components available to you and by covering when each screen element is best employed. Many of these screen elements are common among all development languages and platforms, but many have behavior that is unique to BlackBerry and warrant the extra attention.

Once we have the screen elements well understood, it's time to branch out into other areas of the system and data storage is one of the most important areas to understand. One of the chapters focuses exclusively on data storage using each of the methods that are available for storing data on a handheld.

One thing that really makes developing for BlackBerry exciting is the ability to integrate with and leverage the existing applications that are present on every BlackBerry handheld. We will look at how to do this more closely, but this is an area so large that one chapter just isn't enough to do it justice. You will be well on your way by the end of it though!

Probably the most complicated and difficult area of the BlackBerry SDK is networking. We will tackle this topic head-on, giving both practical advice and examples for how to create networked applications.

We will also focus on a couple of areas that are interesting, but which aren't as applicable to some applications. The GPS receiver that is included in many new models of BlackBerry devices is one such area. Although both neat and powerful, not all applications can utilize this feature. The other area covered is truly an advanced topic called alternate entry point applications. These have many powerful uses though, one of which is demonstrated for a trivial but common effect that makes your application feel polished and professional.

Our next focus will be on getting your application ready for deployment by covering a number of topics such as localizing and code signing your application. As a final word, we look at what is needed to submit your application to the BlackBerry App World so that it can easily be used by the millions of BlackBerry users world-wide!



In this chapter, we covered some introductory topics about creating applications for BlackBerry handhelds in general. These will be the foundation as we move deeper into the topic on creating applications.

Specifically, we covered:

  • Even though there are multiple tools available, this book will focus on using Eclipse, which is both the most popular and the most powerful of the available tools.

  • You must choose the development environment and SDK to use based on the capabilities you need and the devices you want to support.

  • How this book is organized in steps that mimic the steps you will take when creating applications. You can follow these steps from the most basic of setting up the tools in Chapter 2 to the final steps before releasing an application in Chapter 11.

Now that we've covered some introductory topics, let's get started with installing the tools we need to use. The next chapter covers installing the tools and making sure they are configured correctly.

About the Author

  • Bill Foust

    Bill has been a professional developer for over 15 years in a variety of platforms and languages. Bill first encountered a RIM 950, the predecessor to the BlackBerry brand, in 1998 and has been working with them since that time. During this early period, he wrote and sold many applications for BlackBerry through and was involved in many custom development projects as well.
    With the release of the BlackBerry 5810 in 2002, the development environment changed from C++ to Java Micro, and Bill started pursuing other opportunities, including .NET and has continued to do development and consulting professionally since then.
    He wrote his first book "Mobile Guide to BlackBerry" in 2005 and later became part of the podcasting and blogging team at, which focuses on mobile devices of all kinds.

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BlackBerry Java Application Development
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