Last night, Research In Motion (RIM) officially named its upcoming BlackBerry software store, BlackBerry App World. For the most part, RIM has been generous with details about App World, making regular announcements and providing status updates for both BlackBerry users and developers. But yesterday the BlackBerry maker dropped a bomb: Not counting free apps, the lowest price point for App World software will be $2.99. No $0.99 apps. Not even $1.99 apps. And that just might be enough to sink—or at least severely batter—RIM’s app-store-ship before it even sets sail. Here’s why.
First of all, some proactive confusion-control: the BlackBerry App World is the new name for what RIM has previously referred to as the BlackBerry Application Storefront, not to be confused with the BlackBerry Application Center. The App Center, which RIM launched in conjunction with Verizon Wireless when the BlackBerry Storm hit the U.S. market in November, is an on-device, carrier-managed-and-maintained software distribution channel. The App Center will be available to all BlackBerry devices running handheld OS 4.7, including the Storm and the upcoming “Niagara” 9630.
BlackBerry App World, which is expected to open its virtual doors some time this month, will be a similar, on-device service populated with applications submitted by third-party developers and approved by RIM for distribution. (RIM will ensure submissions meet both content and quality standards.) A PayPal payment account will be required to both submit applications for consideration and purchase them. Unlike the BlackBerry App Center, wireless carriers will have nothing to do with App World. And App World will be available to all BlackBerry smartphone owners with trackball devices—the entire 8xxx series lineup, excluding 87xx handhelds—and the Storm. And BlackBerry themes will not be offered at first.
Oh yeah, let’s clear up one more fact while we’re at it: The BlackBerry App World is aimed 99.99999 percent at CONSUMERS.
There’s understandably some confusion over this point, as RIM’s traditional user base has been composed almost exclusively of businesspeople. But enterprise customers often need heavily-customized applications and extensive support options, the likes of which could not possibly be offered as part of BlackBerry App World. As such, those corporate customers will continue to procure complex business applications through existing channels and through independent software vendors (ISVs), according to Kirkup.
In other words, RIM knows App World really isn’t a viable option for businesses. On the other hand, the BlackBerry-maker need only look at Apple’s impressive success with the iTunes App Store to see that such distribution methods work just fine for consumers.
And that’s where the $2.99-starting-price-point dilemma comes in. Along with the App World name announcement, RIM also unveiled the associated app-pricing-structure, which breaks down like this:
Not counting free apps, note the lack of any pricing options below $3.
As of 9:30 am EST, when this post was written, more than half of the top 25 paid applications in Apple’s iTunes App Store were priced at $0.99. And four of the top five apps sell for $0.99. Furthermore, only six of the 25 top paid iTunes apps sell for more than $1.99, and five sell for more than $2.99.
That’s no coincidence. Think
of how the average consumer-smartphone-user’s mind works: The less cash one needs to dole out to try a new application, the less “risk” that’s involved. That’s why free BlackBerry apps are so popular—as are free Windows Mobile apps, iPhone apps, etc.–and there’s no shortage of them. Sure, there are “lite” versions of paid iTunes apps, so potential buyers can give them a spin, but the “problem” with these slimmed-down versions is that they sometimes provide enough functionality for you to skip a full purchase—or know that you should avoid one. That could be both a good and bad thing, depending on whose shoes you’re wearing, the user’s or the developer’s.
To my mind, $0.99 isn’t a lot to pay to try a new app that could prove to be invaluable, worthless or somewhere in between. Double that number to $1.99, and I’d think twice about the purchase, but probably not long enough to convince myself that my $2 could be better spent elsewhere. Add one more dollar and the game changes a bit.
I own an iPhone 3G, and in all honesty, I’ve only downloaded two apps for more than $2 in the six months or so that I’ve had it —and one of them came on the first day I bought the device, just to see what all the fuss over Monkey Ball was about. A quick glance at my iTunes account tells me that I’ve downloaded more than 50 apps. Do the math and you see that less than 4 percent of all my iPhone apps cost $2 or more.
It’s true, I’m not exactly your average iPhone user; I spend most of my time on a BlackBerry; and I make it a point to locate free apps to recommend to my readers. Still, RIM’s making a big mistake in not letting developers charge whatever they please for apps, and I think there’s a good chance we’ll see a change of heart from the BlackBerry-maker shortly after App World goes live. Even a $1.99 option would be a big step in the right direction.
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.