BlackBerry Tips and Tricks: App Management Best Practices
CIO.com's BlackBerry black belt Al Sacco shares tips and tricks on how to get the most from BlackBerry applications, while at the same time ensuring those apps don't negatively affect your smartphone's performance.
By Al Sacco
Managing Editor, CIO
Thanks to mobile software stores like Research In Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry App World and Mobihand’s App Store for BlackBerry, it’s never been easier to obtain mobile applications for BlackBerry smartphones, whether you’re shopping around on your handheld or via desktop computer. That’s clearly a good thing for BlackBerry users. But in this case, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.
One of the downsides of RIM’s BlackBerry OS: It provides users with a relatively small amount of on-device storage space for third-party software; installed BlackBerry applications must be stored within users’ “application memory,” which maxes out at a mere 256MB in the current generation of BlackBerry smartphones. (RIM’s new BlackBerry Bold 9650 has 512MB of app memory, but it’s not expected to be released until later this month.)
A quick and easy way to reduce undue strain on your BlackBerry smartphone is to make sure only the applications you’re using at a given time are open and active. The BlackBerry is built for “multi-tasking,” unlike certain popular smartphones–ahem, Apple, I’m looking at you–so it’s okay to leave more than one app open at a time. But it’s a very good habit to get used to closing apps as soon as you’re done, so you don’t find yourself “overloading” your BlackBerry by opening more apps without closing others.
Checking your BlackBerry Application Switcher is a simple and effective method of determining which applications are open on your device. To access the app switcher, simply depress your BlackBerry Menu key–located directly to the left of your trackball/trackpad–for a couple of seconds, until the app switcher appears on screen. With the app switcher visible, scroll left or right to see which apps are currently running on your device. Click on any app to open it, then hit Menu one more time for access to that specific app’s “Exit” or “Close” function.
If you see an app in your BlackBerry Application Switcher, it’s running. A group of core BlackBerry applications, including RIM’s BlackBerry Browser, Phone, BlackBerry Messenger and Messages inbox, cannot be closed, and as such, you’ll always see them in your app switcher.
Some third-party apps are designed to be left open at all times or their functionality becomes limited. For example, Google’s Google Voice for BlackBerry application must be open for users to access its full feature-set. And a Twitter app like TweetGenius is also meant to be left open, at least while the user wants Twitter updates, so it’s up to you to decide whether or not leaving such an app open is worth the associated device strain. You should base your individual decisions on how important it is to you to have a specific application available, as well as the effects that app has on your device performance.
In general, it’s a good idea to close any apps you’re not using constantly. And it’s easy to identify all open apps and then close unnecessary software using your BlackBerry Application Switcher.
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Monitor BlackBerry Application Memory Usage
You’re less likely to run low on available BlackBerry application memory, and see related performance losses, if you’re frequently monitoring your app-memory usage-levels.
Perhaps the easiest way to quickly check on your BlackBerry app memory is to open up your BlackBerry Options menu–it looks like a “wrench icon” in most default BlackBerry themes–and then scroll down to and click the Memory section. You’ll see a variety of memory-related listing, but if you scroll down a bit you’ll find a value for “Application Memory.” In addition to your third-party BlackBerry apps, the BlackBerry OS also employs this app memory space for storing core apps and other OS components, so you actually have access to even less than the total amount of app memory (256MB/128MB/etc).
BlackBerry Memory Options Page
You can also open up the BlackBerry App World application, then click and login to the My World section to see your available app memory, which is listed in the upper-right corner
In general, you should consider removing some BlackBerry apps if your available application memory is less than 20 percent of your total app memory. You may not see performance degradation with just a fifth of your available app memory free, but you probably will in the near future. And if your device is running poorly or slower than it should, removing apps and freeing up application memory is good place to start when trying to maximize performance. Which leads to my next recommendation…
Ditch Unused or Underused BlackBerry Apps
Many BlackBerry users download application after application without any regard for the effects such a software-collection can have on their devices. As mentioned above, once you install enough applications to diminish your app memory to roughly 20 percent or lower, your BlackBerry will very likely start to “misbehave.”
One easy way to maximize BlackBerry application memory is to simply remove any and all applications you don’t use or that you only use occasionally. Removing an application is as easy as scrolling over the app’s icon, clicking your BlackBerry Menu key and choosing the Delete option. (Note: You may have to reboot your device after removing an app, so don’t attempt to clear out applications if you don’t have a 10 minutes or so to allow the device to reboot.)
And if you get most of your mobile software from BlackBerry App World, you can choose to “archive” apps to your memory card instead of removing them, so the software can be quickly re-installed in the future, if you so choose.
BlackBerry Apps: Yes, Size Matters
Smart BlackBerry users pay attention to the size of the applications they download, since adding new apps, particularly large ones, can directly influence device performance. Most BlackBerry apps are relatively small–especially when compared to mobile apps for other platforms, like Apple’s iPhone. But they have to be, since RIM only provides a small amount of memory for app storage, as mentioned above.
Most BlackBerry apps weigh in at just a couple of MBs or smaller. You may want to reconsider installing apps that are larger than two or three MBs, particularly if you’re already running low on app memory. If you’re using a brand new BlackBerry smartphone with only core apps installed, you probably don’t have to worry about the size of applications you install–at first. But it’s still a good idea to monitor the sizes of your apps, if for no other reason than you’ll know which ones should go first if, or when, you need to free up some app memory.
It’s easy to determine the size of any BlackBerry app just before you download or install it. If you’re installing software over the air (OTA), the application size is typically listed on the OTA download confirmation screen, along with the app name, vendor information, etc. If you’re using BlackBerry App World, the store provides app-size info as soon as you click on a listing for more details.
And it’s easy to find the sizes of all the applications on your BlackBerry; just click on your BlackBerry Options icon again, scroll down to and click Applications and then select a specific app to see a variety of related data, including size in bytes.
Make Lists of “Paid” BlackBerry App Registration Codes
“Commercial” or “paid” BlackBerry apps often come with a registration code, unique to your BlackBerry, that’s used to authenticate you as the legitimate buyer of the software. That’s all fine and good, as it cuts down on software piracy. But it’s also a serious pain in the trackpad to have to enter in those registration codes every time you install a new BlackBerry OS or wipe and reconnect to a corporate BES.
What’s even worse than having to spend an hour reentering app-registration codes to get your software in order? Not being able to find those registration codes, so you can’t access your apps at all.
That’s why it’s a very good idea–and one that’ll save you pain and anguish down the road–to maintain a list of all your BlackBerry app registration codes. BlackBerry App World and Mobihand’s BlackBerry software store offer features to help customers remember their registration codes, but it’s still a good idea to keep your own list.
Just open a Word document on your PC or your BlackBerry. (Check out this tip for creating new Word documents in the free version of DataViz’s Documents to Go software.) Then cut and paste the app name and registration code into the file and save it someplace safe–I usually save multiple copies of my app-registration lists on my BlackBerry and PC, and I send a copy of the list to my Web mail account whenever I update it so I can access the list on the fly.
Since BlackBerry app registration codes are typically unique to your BlackBerry PIN, protecting those codes from prying eyes doesn’t need to be a real priority; the apps won’t work on any device other than your own, unless the PIN on file for an app is changed.
Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for CIO.com and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed CIO.com writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.