Ok, I confess! I’ve been Playing…book.

Are you wondering why there is no new post about the Mobile Experiment? Although I’ll have something new very soon, I’ve spending sometime with the new Blackberry Playbook, not the real device, but with the SDK and the simulator.

If you’re not following the latest news about it, RIM has released the Tablet OS SDK with a VMWare-based simulator. This SDK is targeted to use Adobe’s AIR platform, allowing Flash applications to run natively on the device. There will be Java SDK and a native SDK (C/C++) at some point, but not soon; so if you are curious like me, Adobe AIR/Flash is the way to go.

AIR and ActionScript are new to me, but after few hours reading tutorials and sample codes, I was impressed how similar to Java it is. My starting point was watching this video:  Action Script 3 for Java Developers from Adobe’s website. The Adobe Developer Connection has also tons of information that I found very useful. Of course, the Blackberry Support Forum has been my main source of information – I’ve found very experienced people around there ready to help.

The development experience is quite different from the smartphones. When developing for smartphones,  you have a ready-to-use Eclipse plugin and one simulator for every model RIM has released, all standalone applications and all free. For the Playbook, they’ve taken a different path: First the simulator is actually a ISO image that you must use with a VMWare software, and this is not a temporary solution. Also, it doesn’t work with others software for virtualization, like Virtual Box. The conclusion here is that there is a development cost to develop for the Playbook.

For Mac, the cheapest option is the VMware Fusion, that is on sale until the end of 2010. On Windows you can use the VMware Player, which is available as free download. In this case, the problem is that the license says “free for non-commercial use”. Although there is no limitation or expiration date. if you are using for commercial purposes, you should by a copy of VMWare.

Although the Flash support is present, the simulator seems very incomplete. Actually I’d say it is a “Live CD” instead, like those linux distributions you can install on a virtual machine, because there is no way to change the device orientation (portrait or landscape), there is no camera, no GPS, no way to test gesture events, no web browser, and the list goes on and on… The AIR SDK has support for all these things, but I’m not sure if the Tablet OS SDK will use AIR’s API as is, or there will be changes. All these factors make clear that you cannot build an application and release to the public using the simulator/SDK on this development stage. This is something that is bothering a lot of people.

Maybe you are thinking that the device is not released yet, so there is no customer and therefore the problem above doesn’t exist, right? Wrong! A lot of people are running to get their applications ready and available on launch date because RIM is giving away a Playbook to all developers that can build an application and get it approved by App World before the release date. That makes a lot of developers, including myself, to rush in and build something ASAP.

Although it seems a very smart marketing move, the lack of development resources and API support will limit the kind of application that could be available at launch date. I hope they release better support on upcoming weeks, since it seems the Playbook will be release on the first quarter of 2011.

Despite the problems that I’m facing as an earlier-adopter, I’m very pleased to see how easy and powerful the AIR platform is to build applications for the Playbook, with a excellent perk: you can easily extend your app for Android-based devices… After all, the Samsung Galaxy is coming out, too!

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