The making of a BlackBerry Storm app

At the BlackBerry Developer Conference, app writers get into the eye of developing apps specifically for the touch-screen Storm.

BlackBerry Storm (Credit: RIM)

When most people focus on the BlackBerry Storm, the first touch-screen phone in RIM's history, they anticipate the sensitivity of the accelerometer, the agility of the application store, and the feel of the domed screen that depresses like a giant button when you push on it.

Here at the first-ever BlackBerry Developer Conference in Santa Clara, Calif., however, the focus goes much deeper. Instead of fussing over speed, sleekness, and slimness, the conversation here employs terms like finger one and finger two, ups and downs, listeners, and callbacks; all ingredients application developers must layer into their code to make Java-based applications work on the Storm.

RIM, of course, wants to make the transition as easy as possible by translating the core behaviors of a standard BlackBerry to touch-screen equivalents, but there are a lot of tangles to work out and not all the application authors here have experience writing touch-screen apps. It's up to individual developers to determine which of a user's actions will be automatically converted to the touch-screen format and which will need some extra programming to make it work.

For example, developers won't have to program every single click that's been written into a Java application (like clicking "OK" or "Save"). The code for those simple, universal actions will be translated as a single tap.

However, many moves that the Storm enables have no Curve or Pearl analog, like swiping the screen in all directions or two-fingered taps. To build this capability into an application, the developers must take into account mapping the coordinates where you start and end a swipe, and the angles and magnitude of the arc. All of a sudden it's getting much more mathematical. Numbers must be calculated to mean something in the code, enough to trigger the application's response, like moving a photo around the screen or highlighting text.

As the talk in this session becomes more and more technical, the developers' difficult task of reprogramming their style for touch-screen phones becomes all the more clear. As RIM develops more touchscreen phones, I wonder if they'll look for ways to simplify production (especially for less technical contributors) that resemble Apple's paint-by-numbers developer's program with its drag-and-drop interface-building.

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