blackberry app world could have been a contender sm3What are the odds that Blackberry App World will emerge as strong player in the App Space? 

It is us, or did the big news out of last month’s CTIA (i.e. RIM’s announcement of Blackberry App World) didn’t really get much attention?  Instead, what we heard most was a great collective gnashing of teeth over the absence of new Android handsets, and of course everyone and their mother getting all lathered up over something iPhone-related.

Could this be the moment when Blackberry became irrelevant?  The moment when we’ll all look back and say, “Yep kids… before we had the iThisOrThat, we all had these funny little Blackberry dodads… they had these pesky scroll wheels and track balls and we pecked email out with our thumbs.” Perhaps so.  Here at mobilestance, however, we think the ‘Berry’s not going anywhere, anytime soon… and that their “App World” is an important development that deserves its proper due.

That said, with competition in the Smartphone space getting so fierce, so fast, we thought it would be a good idea to take a step back and attempt to forecast whether App World has real legs or not.   Our system uses a “thumb scale” of one to five thumbs (OK, the thumb metaphor breaks down a bit when we get to five thumbs, but who cares? We can have five thumbs, can’t we?).

The Experience (weak thumbs-up: 3/5).  App World’s failings, when compared to the Apple App Store, have been well covered elsewhere, but the long and the short of it is that while App World isn’t half as slick, robust or easy to use as Apple’s App Store, it does the job well enough to satisfy your average user.  Entertainment-starved BBery users are voting with their thumbs, downloading apps such as the ClearChannel iheartradio app over 257,756 times in two short weeks time – a positive sign to be sure.

Developers, developers, developers (strong thumbs-down: 1/5).  Developing for Blackberry has always been a less than ideal experience.  In addition to universally-panned, couldn’t be more cumbersome developer tools, RIM has a certification process akin to the old BREW system or Carrier model.  Sure… once your in, you’re in – and access to those sweet device API’s must be fantastic (seamless add-to-cal, push notification, etc), but having to jump thru hoops just to be an “approved developer” is a little much…  in light of *ahem* – much more open platforms… and especially since nowadays Android and Apple can match most of what RIM is offering in terms of API integration (except that pesky calendar integration – Cupertino, are you listening!?!).

Pricing (weak thumbs-down: 2/5). I’m sorry, but anyone who’s taken Economics 101 can tell you that artificial price floors like what RIM is doing with the $2.99 floor for paid downloads only serve to deflate consumption, clumsily pushing the market off the organic price/demand curve.  Yes, yes… we are aware of the argument that $0.99 iPhone app downloads have eroded the value of mobile applications to the point where the paid model is no longer viable.  To that we would say, “Come on!  How much is iFart really worth (to users)?  Let the developers charge what they want, already. Consumers will pay more for the good stuff.”

User Base (thumbs-up: 4/5).  In terms of scale, Blackberry’s clearly got the edge over Apple and Android here (I’m ignoring the Nokia app store for now, because… well, mobilestance is published in the US, and let’s face it… ignoring Nokia is what Americans do).  Even though BBery users need to be running version 4.2 or higher to use App World, that’s still a lot of Bolds, Storms (both come preloaded with the new OS), as well as those with relatively newer models that can handle the firmware upgrade.

On-device Competition (Strong Thumbs-up: 5/5).  The dark horse in all of this, and the primary reason why I believe App World will be relatively successful right out of the gate, is the simple fact that the Blackberry default browser is just terrible… and that our assumption is that Blackberry users will jump at the chance to have ANY positive on-device experience with the brands they love – and this means downloading applications from App World.  Comparatively speaking, Blackberry apps are simply MUCH better than the comparable browsing experience, far more so than on any other smartphone platform (and I’m including Microsoft here).  Quite simply, for many Blackberry users browsing is so poor an experience that (relatively) few bother with it at all.

Final score: (Weak thumbs-up / 3 out of 5 “thumbs”) . So there you have it.  When you average it all together our quick and dirty handicap on whether App World will be successful is a somewhat lukewarm “yes.”  Not exactly a contender, but a long term player that deserves our attention, and respect.

Now… anyone want to take a stab at the over/under for total downloads in the first six months?  Medialets?  Pinch?  comScore?  I’m looking at you, Eric.

76 Responses to “Handicapping Blackberry’s App World”

  1. #1 Jason Spero says:

    Great post as usual Jamie. The most interesting thing here is that audience. They have a killer installed base if they can get everyone using App World. The apps may be more narrow but so is the audience. The unique users are big The browsing activity – even on a so-so experience – is already heavy. A decent solution here will quickly achieve scale for media models. Should be interesting to see them defend unit share against Apple and the Google hoards…

    Well done.

  2. #2 Eric Litman says:

    Spot on.

    Few more points:

    1. External discovery. There’s no equivalent to iTunes, nothing indexed by the major search engines. This is a key discovery mechanism for apps in the App Store and smart developers have figured out the importance of SEO in their app marketing strategies. If users can’t find it, an app might as well not exist.

    2. Costs to developers. $200 gets you 10 “apps”, but that number includes published updates. So 2 apps with 5 updates in a year burns through that $200. RIM’s sweet spot is in the enterprise and it’s not surprising that they would target enterprise app developers, but today’s tinkerer/hobbyist just may be tomorrow’s Microsoft.

    3. No WebKit for app developers. They’re moving toward it, but without a high quality, easily embedable web framework, developers will have limited ability to leverage and reuse existing online assets.

    On to the handicapping: 6 months out we’ll see somewhere in the 3-7m download range. That’s my personal guess – my team is much smarter than I and refused to give me their professional estimate. Access to App World isn’t obvious, but consumer behavior on iPhone and even Android has shown in no uncertain terms that there is demand for richer, on device experiences. If RIM starts bundling App World with newly shipped devices and carriers don’t cripple discovery/payments/distribution, I would double my estimate.

  3. #3 Carnival of the Mobilists #171 at The Catalyst Code says:

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