Research In Motion this month launched its answer to the Apple App Store, releasing a mobile application storefront for BlackBerry devices called App World. eWEEK Labs did a little shopping and found that App World presents a satisfactory on-device experience, but that RIM breaks no new ground in helping users find relevant applications. Also, limiting payment options solely to PayPal users could dissuade many potential customers.
Installing App World is a very straightforward process. From a BlackBerry Curve 8900, I browsed to www.blackberry.com/appworld to obtain the free installation package. Otherwise, I could browse to that link from a PC and e-mail the download link to an account configured on the device. With the package obtained, installation took less than a minute but did require a device reboot to finish the process. The App World application installed into the Downloads folder, but I could easily move it to my primary menu for easier access.
The new store will work on most recent-generation BlackBerrys with software Version 4.2 or higher. If the device has a roller ball or a touch-screen, the store should work.
One of the major drawbacks of Apple’s App Store has been difficulties in organizing available content. As the store has grown in popularity and thousands of applications have been added, developers have had an increasingly hard time getting their products in front of users. Likewise, users have a limited number of options for getting suitable apps presented to them. Lists of top downloads and staff selections are the primary vehicles of exploration, and many submitted applications never see either of those lists.
Unfortunately, with the initial App World launch, RIM has done little to address the visibility problem. Indeed, App World may actually be worse than the App Store once development hits a critical mass: App World has fewer lists than the App Store, and exploration of the App World catalog is somewhat constrained because App World is accessible only from BlackBerry devices.
App World’s primary means of introducing apps to users is the Featured Items panel, which is presented to users immediately upon starting App World. Featured Items highlights a limited number of paid and free applications (commonly 12 to 14 at one time) that users can peruse by scrolling side to side. At the April CTIA show in Las Vegas, RIM executives hinted that Featured Items placement was determined by a number of factors (such as number of downloads and newness), but they also wanted to make it clear that vendors could not buy such placement.
Other tools for finding applications can be found among a series of four tabs at the bottom of the Featured Items screen. One tab leads to a Top 25 Downloads list, and another to a category browsing tool, divided into 13 top-level categories. The third tool is a reasonably snappy (at least over Wi-Fi) Search tool, which searches through the application title and descriptive text for matches. At this time, however, App World Search doesn’t support tagging, which would help developers further classify their offerings.
The fourth tab leads to MyWorld, which displays all applications on a device installed via AppWorld. MyWorld shows the size of each application, and provides quick links to run or uninstall each application, view screenshots or reviews, and add a review. However, I found some applications-namely, ones on the device by default but updated via App World (like AIM or Yahoo Messenger)-could not be run from within MyWorld.
Viewing App World
In addition, whereas the Apple App Store can be viewed from a PC or Mac via iTunes-presenting wider views of available applications and more cleanly presented reviews and descriptions-App World browsers must instead view single application presentations or truncated lists due to the dimensions of the device screen.
The only view into App World that users can get from a PC is a list of Featured BlackBerry apps on the BlackBerry Website. (These apps are different from those in the Featured Items panel.) Users can check select-boxes for multiple applications on-screen, then e-mail direct links to their devices. When the e-mail is received, users click the links and choose to launch App World instead of a browser.
Interestingly, when AppWorld launched on April 1, RIM executives claimed there were about 800 applications in the store, with a total of 1,000 expected in the store by the end of that week. But at the time I wrote this story, more than two weeks after the launch, the categorical display showed only 741 applications available in the store.
Most applications I sampled were available for free, but App World has a number of pricing tiers for paid applications. Most of those available now cost less than $10, but I saw several in the $50 to $70 range, and one as expensive as $200.
To purchase for-pay applications, users must have a PayPal account-no credit cards permitted (except when used through PayPal). When purchasing an application, users enter their PayPal user name and password, both of which get proxied over to PayPal for authentication and payment validation. Before confirming the purchase, users can read the extensive terms of sale for the application. Once payment is processed, the application will be downloaded and installed.
MyWorld adds additional functionality here as well-as a sort of online storage locker that allows users to move purchased applications to another BlackBerry device. When the user logs into PayPal, a MyWorld locker is created under the PayPal user name, and it tracks what applications have been bought under this user name/PayPal account. (It does not track free applications.) Therefore, if the user logs into MyWorld from another BlackBerry device, MyWorld automatically synchronizes purchased applications to the new device.
Senior Analyst Andrew Garciacan be reached at [email protected]