by Al Sacco

RIM BlackBerry App Storefront, Coming in ’09: What’s In It for Users?

Oct 27, 20084 mins
Enterprise Applications

If you haven’t already heard, Research In Motion (RIM) plans to launch two new BlackBerry application distribution channels in 2009, to make it easier for both software developers and wireless carriers to deliver mobile apps to BlackBerry smartphone users. That’s all fine and good, but as a BlackBerry device owner, as opposed to a developer or carrier, I want to know what’s in it for me?

RIM BlackBerry Application Center on touch screen BlackBerry Storm 9530
BlackBerry Application Center on Thunder 95xx

According to RIM, “the new online application storefront and a new on-device application center will help application developers and carriers reach millions of BlackBerry smartphone users worldwide and will provide consumers with greater choice, enhanced application discovery and an easy method for managing installation, upgrades, and purchases.”

First of all, a quick breakdown: The BlackBerry Application Storefront will be a Web locale that can be visited by all BlackBerry users, most likely via the default BlackBerry browser. The storefront is expected to open in March 2009, but developers can begin submitting their apps and content to RIM in December.

The BlackBerry Application Center is expected to be an on-device version of the application storefront, though official details aren’t yet available—in other words, there will likely be an icon to launch the service on users’ home screens. The app center will reportedly be populated and maintained by wireless carriers. Participating carriers will likely have their own BlackBerry App Centers. That means that those carriers, not RIM, will have the final say on which applications make the grade—and perhaps more importantly, which ones don’t. (No worries, BlackBerry admins, you’ll still be able to block any unwanted apps via IT policy.)

RIM’s announcements were appropriately made at the BlackBerry Developer Conference, and while I think they represent truly great news for developers looking for ways to gain exposure for new applications and for carriers looking to sell apps, I question the value of both the BlackBerry Application Storefront, and in particular, the BlackBerry Application Centers, to the everyday Joe BlackBerry. (Yes, I’m—shamelessly–channeling Governor Palin here…)

I don’t know about you, but I’m not seeing any shortage in BlackBerry application selection, nor do I have any problem finding new software for my BlackBerry—just search Google for “BlackBerry apps” and I think you’ll agree.

Also, I can count the number of BlackBerry applications I’ve purchased on one hand—though I’ve downloaded and used hundreds of free apps, and I also get quite a few commercial apps from vendors—so I really don’t need a new place to dole out cash for BlackBerry software. (Plus, there are already a number of places to securely pick up paid apps, including the CrackBerry Store, which also has an on-device shop launcher;; MobiHand; and Handango.

There’s also the very important matter of which applications will make it into the BlackBerry Application Storefront and BlackBerry Application Centers. There’s no doubt RIM will be less tyrannical tight-fisted with its app approval process than Apple is with its iTunes App Store vetting. But something rubs me the wrong way about going through RIM, or even worse, carriers—some of which are notorious for blocking certain smartphone features and applications—for my BlackBerry software.

In my mind, the truly valuable aspect of both offerings is the fact that application updates will likely be brought to users’ attention whenever they visit one of the new locations. (Of course, there’s value in the whole one-stop-shop thing, mainly for beginner users, but again, there are already one-stop-BlackBerry-software shops available online.)

My guess is that if you’re a developer, you’ll embrace both the BlackBerry Application Storefront and the BlackBerry Application Centers, because they’ll give you new avenues to potentially distribute your mobile software.

But as a BlackBerry user, you may not have much reason to be terribly excited for these two new services.