When it comes to apps, BlackBerry is traditionally assumed to be lagging behind Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms.
But BlackBerry users love apps. At the DevCon 2011 keynote Tuesday morning, RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis revealed that BlackBerry users are downloading 5m apps a day. At this run-rate, it’s seeing 140m app downloads a month. And the number is growing.
To date, 1bn apps have been downloaded from AppWorld. Multiply the current number out and you get close to 2bn apps in the current 12 months. Alex Sanders, RIM’s vice president of developer relations and ecosystem, says this equates to 24 apps per year per user.
The 5m number is interesting and higher than many would’ve expected. Apple, by comparison, is seeing 33m iOS apps downloaded daily.
Saunders says AppWorld is the “second-most profitable app store on the market today” (behind iTunes App Store, and ahead of the Android Market).
AppWorld is available in 130 countries, with more than 26 currencies supported (including rands). It has carrier billing – app downloads are billed as part of your account with an operator like Vodacom or MTN – in ten countries. It knows how important this is, and will grow this to more countries and more operators.
What’s driving app usage and downloads?
For one, AppWorld is front-and-centre on its new BlackBerry 7 devices. Lazaridis says BB7 is the company’s “most successful global launch of smartphones ever”.
The new AppWorld 3 is a dramatic improvement on its predecessors and brings BlackBerry in line with competing app stores. The work put into AppWorld is paying off. Users on new-generation BlackBerry 7 devices (like the Bold 9900) generate 11 times more revenue (higher gross app ARPU) than those on BlackBerry 6 and BlackBerry 5 phones.
It’s also overhauled its tools for developers to build apps. RIM has taken tons of flack for its tools which have been decidedly “un-user friendly”. It’s been difficult to code apps for BlackBerry (a multitude of frameworks and details required for the different devices and platforms). Beyond that, even something seemingly simple like submitting apps to AppWorld has been unnecessarily complex.
Today it launched a new platform, BBX which will be the single platform the company will use. It combines BlackBerry OS and QNX (the operating system which forms the base on the PlayBook tablet).
A standard platform means a standard set of tools and a standard framework for developers to create apps for BlackBerry devices (Native SDK).
Developers at DevCon are seemingly divided. Some are excited by the prospects presented by the opportunity. Others point to the multitude of open source libraries supported by the new tools as a desperate attempt to attract developers.
RIM is pushing its ecosystem aggressively in the developer community, repeatedly driving home the message that on average, developers make more money on BlackBerry.
So far, a host of games have been demoed, and it is clear BlackBerry sees this as an area it can compete very strongly and effectively in.
This developer conference predates any device and consumer-focused launches. It needs developers to start creating appealing apps for the ecosystem. It needs them to start building now. Only then it can start marketing these apps and games to consumers like you and me.
“Now, we’re laser-focused on one platform,” says Lazaridis. “BBX. Today and tomorrow. In handhelds, tablets, automobiles, planes, hospitals, everywhere.”
Developers have been crying out for this. Consumers, without knowing it yet, have been too. No more worrying about which version of software your device has. The single platform means more apps, and no worries about compatibility.
Already any apps built in its new framework will work on the PlayBook.
We’ll probably see the new BBX devices (smartphones, maybe a new tablet?) early next year.
Now, we wait.
* Hilton Tarrant travelled to San Francisco as a guest of Research In Motion/BlackBerry.