by Al Sacco

RIM BlackBerry Application Center: Apple iPhone App Store Gets New Rival

Oct 06, 20084 mins
Enterprise Applications

Well, well, well, it looks as though RIM is making another move to level the playing field between it and Apple in the consumer space, by offering an on-device application distribution hub not unlike Apple’s iTunes App Store. It’s about time: RIM’s current method for distributing applications to its users is non-existent. Literally.

In news that surfaced today, RIM appears to be calling the new one-stop-BlackBerry-app-shop the BlackBerry Application Center. (Lame name if you ask me–why not Uber ‘Berry Bodega or something more creative?—but I digress…)

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

I can’t say this move comes as much of a surprise; anyone paying attention to the ongoing battle between RIM and Apple for consumer hearts and minds should probably have suspected something like this was in the pipeline. It only makes sense.

Details on the new BlackBerry Application Center are sparse at this point; however, it appears right now to be crafted specifically for users of the upcoming touch screen BlackBerry Storm 95xx, which will run on BlackBerry handheld OS 4.7. The Storm is expected to land on Verizon Wireless in November; it’s unclear whether or not the new App Center will be immediately available.

Today, there’s no central repository for BlackBerry applications, save for a page on that lists officially sanctioned applications. However, not all of those apps can be downloaded directly to a handheld from the page. Desktop computers and RIM’s Desktop Manager Software are required to install some apps, which complicates the acquisition process.

BlackBerry users are currently on their own when it comes to finding applications that aren’t listed on RIM’s page. (That’s what’s Free BlackBerry Downloads page is for! And there is another “unofficial” BlackBerry App Store…)

That’s fine for tech-savvy folks who spend much of their time using BlackBerrys to get mail, navigate the Web and perform more advanced tasks. But what about those first-time-smartphone-owners (you know, those potential BlackBerry Pearl 8220 users) who’ve never employed their phones for anything more than placing calls? How likely do you think they are put in the time it takes to search out a quality BlackBerry app on the Web and then figure out how to install it and make it work?

Beginner-smartphone -users want simplicity, and that is exactly what Apple’s App Store provides—and what RIM is looking to (finally) deliver, as well.

But that’s not the sole purpose of the BlackBerry Application Center. Nope, the new application is also meant to help wireless carriers. In fact, the only applications that will be available to users via the BlackBerry App Center will have to be approved by the users’ specific carriers. (Sound kind of familiar??) In other words, AT&T users who access the App Center with a BlackBerry Pearl 8120 may see an entirely different selection of applications than a T-Mobile BlackBerry Pearl 8120 user sees.

Carriers will also reportedly be responsible for hosting all application data and ensuring that their apps listed in the BlackBerry Application Center are up to date.

That doesn’t mean that BlackBerry users won’t still be able to install whatever applications they please, even if they’re not advertised in the BlackBerry Application Center; rather, it just means that those who aren’t industrious enough to seek out applications on their own will have a central locale for picking up new, carrier-approved software.

Such a destination could also make the app purchasing process more attractive to less tech-savvy users who aren’t confident

with online financial transaction via mobile devices, because instead of handing over sensitive payment information to some random site, users could potentially charge the app fees directly to their carriers, who could then transfer the costs to subscribers’ monthly bills.

The BlackBerry Application Center should be a welcome addition to RIM’s current software distribution channels—or lack thereof–but I think it’s aimed mainly at newcomers to the BlackBerry platform.

It still remains to be seen what sort of applications will be made available through the App Center—you can bet certain carriers will avoid GPS-based apps like the modern versions of the Nimda worm, (I’m lookin’ at you, Verizon!) But it does better position RIM to compete with Apple for the packs of dollar-signs smartphone newbies who are just now starting to notice all those flashy BlackBerry advertisements now playing on their favorite television channels.

Additional information and screen shots are available on


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