RIM Makes Its Play for Developers

In an attempt to capture the hearts and minds of developers already enamored with iOS and Android, RIM (s rimm) announced a slew of updates aimed at making developing for the BlackBerry platform much more attractive and profitable.

RIM is clearly playing catch-up, trying to get its BlackBerry OS on equal footing with Apple’s (s aapl) iOS and Google’s (s goog) Android, which have far more apps than BlackBerry App World. The latest upgrades certainly help to remove barriers, but it’s still going to be an uphill slog trying to win over developers, who see more dollar signs on the iPhone, iPad and Android devices.

The upgrades, announced during the opening keynote at RIM’s BlackBerry Devcon convention, include a new advertising network, a free analytics service, third-party integration with BlackBerry Messenger, and a new platform for developing robust web applications. RIM also announced new in-app purchase capabilities, a new tool for BlackBerry app development on Mac OSX computers, and better support for enterprise app developers.

The biggest news is RIM’s new ad network — BlackBerry Advertising Service — which targets Apple’s iAd and Google’s Admob. RIM is trying to make it dead simple for developers to drop in just three lines of code to get initial access to an inventory of ads from five networks: Millennial Media, Amobee, Jumptap, Lat49 and Mojiva. Developers will be able to get ads supplied automatically or select specific ads for placement in their apps, and they’ll get a 60 percent cut of ad revenue, the same as iAd. RIM was reportedly interested in buying Millennial but it appears they’re going to just act as a facilitator between ad networks and developers.

Developers will also be able to access free analytics information from BlackBerry Analytics Service, helping them understand who’s getting their apps, how they’re being used and how they can better design their apps for users. The service, which will work off of the WebTrends Mobile Analytics platform, will go live soon.

Along the same lines of making developers money, RIM is enabling in-app purchases. Developers will be able to sell premium content or other add-ons directly from their apps and can leverage the new carrier billing feature in BlackBerry App World 2.0 to make it easier for users to buy content.

[inline-pro-content]RIM is opening up a suite of APIs to its BlackBerry Messenger service, allowing third-party developers to integrate their apps with BBM. BlackBerry Messenger Social Platform can be used for sharing content with fellow BBM users or offering invites to multiplayer games. RIM said it has 28 million active BBM users with 1.5 million new users coming online every month.

It’s not all about native apps with RIM; the company has also released WebWorks, a new platform for developing web apps for BlackBerry devices. The platform will give developers the ability to write web apps in HTML5, CSS and JavaScript that access BlackBerry features such as multi-tasking, push, calendar and address book and can work with the new in-app purchase service. There’s also a new Web application packager 1.5 that allows developers to take their web apps and package them for sale in BlackBerry App World. RIM plans to open source WebWorks to allow developers to extend its functionality.

Finally, RIM is also improving the tools for enterprise developers who want to build apps for BlackBerry devices. BlackBerry Enterprise Application Middleware will include new libraries that help with integration of enterprise apps into BlackBerry devices.

The hope is that the collective improvements will move the dial for developers. But in most cases, it just catches RIM up to its competitors. But without a compelling app store or wealth of apps, it’s hard to see how this will help it close the distance.

BBM Social Platform is interesting because it leverages one of RIM’s few advantages in its IM service, but it will be up to developers to make that compelling.

RIM seems to know that it might be a long time before it can get a similar number of apps as iOS or Android. That’s partly why it’s pushed the idea of Super Apps, a sort of quality trumps quantity initiative.

But the game is far from over for RIM, and at least one report suggests that RIM’s users globally are accessing the web as much as Android users are. BlackBerry (34 percent) also came in fifth in Appcelerator’s latest app developer survey for most popular app platform well behind the iPhone, iPad, Android handset and Android tablets but still ahead of webOS, Windows and Symbian. Today’s announcements aren’t game changers, but they keeps RIM in the game for now.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user liewcsf.