by Al Sacco

RIM Developer Exec Mike Kirkup on BlackBerry App Memory Problem, Storefront

Feb 13, 20096 mins
Enterprise Applications

As I recently posted, I’ve got concerns regarding the relatively small amount of memory available within current BlackBerry smartphones for storing third-party mobile applications. The problem: BlackBerrys are restricted when it comes to storing applications, since you can’t save third-party apps to external memory cards, and on-device app memory is extremely limited by Research In Motion (RIM). This week I got the chance to sit down with RIM’s Manager of Developer Relations, Mike Kirkup, for his take on the issue. He also shared some new details on the upcoming BlackBerry Application Storefront, due next month.

abstract image of RIM Manager of Developer Relations Mike Kirkup
RIM’s Mike Kirkup

First, a bit more detail on the BlackBerry app memory predicament: Though some modern BlackBerry devices, such as the Bold 9000, have as much as 1GB of on-board memory and support external memory cards up to 32GB, RIM only allows third party applications to be saved to BlackBerry “app memory.” The largest amount of app memory available today is 256MB, found within the new Curve 8900 device. And that’s actually a lot when compared to earlier devices; both the Bold and Storm have only 128MB of app memory. What’s worse: The BlackBerry OS also lives in app memory, along with more core system software, so you don’t even really have the full amount of advertised memory for storage.

When you consider that Apple iPhone owners, as well as various other non-BlackBerry smartphone users, can dedicate as much of their total smartphone memory to app storage as they please, combined with the fact that BlackBerry users will soon be able to easily download as many apps as they want thanks to the App Storefront, you’ve got a big ol’ bag of you-know-what just waiting to hit the fan.

So does Kirkup agree that there’s a lack of sufficient app storage space on BlackBerry devices?

“Yes, the available amount of application memory is small, but so is the average BlackBerry app,” Kirkup told me.

And he has a point. While many iPhone applications, particularly games have already breached the 100MB, and even the 1GB, size mark, most BlackBerry apps are really much smaller. For example, Viigo, one of my favorite pieces of BlackBerry software, is only 1MB (v3.0.864).

However, the BlackBerry App Storefront is clearly aimed at consumers–Kirkup said so himself–and what kinds of applications do consumer-electronics-users love the most? Games, games and more games. (And, flatulence apps, but I’ll leave that one alone for now…) If RIM wants to offer mobile games with graphics that are on par with games available through Apple’s iTunes App Store, RIM’s going to have to free up some more memory somewhere. Such apps will have to be much larger than today’s average BlackBerry program.

Kirkup acknowledged that RIM is indeed aware of this fact, and that it’s investigating potential ways of enabling users to save apps to external memory cards, or at least free up more on-board memory. However, security is one of the company’s main concerns when it comes to memory cards and third party apps, he says, as the ability to transfer applications—and, more importantly, associated data–from one device to another via memory card is a potential risk, especially from an enterprise perspective.

BlackBerry owners who employ the new App Storefront will have the benefit of “the cloud” for additional app storage, as well, Kirkup says. Users who employ the on-device BlackBerry Application Storefront will be able to download any and all free applications that can fit on their devices

at any time without creating a store account or logging in. But you’ll need to have an App Storefront login, tied to a PayPal account, to purchase commercial apps.

Once you purchase an application, you can choose to delete it whenever you please, directly from your handheld, say to free up space if necessary. But that application will also be available for over-the-air download again in the future, free of charge, after you log in to your account again.

This is probably the most interesting new detail about the App Storefront, to my mind. It means that users will have access to all of their purchased applications—even if they’re not stored on the devices–wherever there’s wireless connectivity. It’s unclear whether Wi-Fi or 3G will be required for on-device app downloads, but this is good news regardless.

Finally, Kirkup discussed the relationship between the BlackBerry Application Storefront and the traditional methods of BlackBerry app distribution, including direct sales through vendors, app aggregators, wireless carrier sites and the BlackBerry Application Center.

All of these existing app distribution channels will continue to operate, and along with the App Store, they’ll “complement” each other, according to Kirkup. Complex enterprise applications that require modification and customization for specific organizations will continue to be sold and deployed by vendors, he says. App aggregators offer unique value in that they provide slightly different app selection, he adds. And the BlackBerry App Center lets carriers offer up whatever network-optimized software they may choose to their specific users.

While this new information doesn’t solve the BlackBerry app memory problem, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. It also tells us that RIM isn’t just sitting around waiting for users to start complaining about the lack of memory for third-party apps; the company is proactively trying to come up with some solution.

Whether or not that solution will be truly viable or not remains to be seen. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the next line of BlackBerry devices from RIM–think: BlackBerry 9300 or BlackBerry “Magnum”–has significantly more app memory, some kind of new graphics engine for games, or the ability to save third-party software to microSD cards.

For more on the BlackBerry Application Storefront from Kirkup listen to RIM’s podcast on the subject. And you can sign up for the BlackBerry Developer Newsletter to stay up to date on App Storefront news.


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