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Summary:

Research In Motion today added purchase and download functionality to its BlackBerry App World website, which could increase the number of app installs. Apple’s web storefront only supports discovery and still requires iTunes on the desktop, while Google has only demonstrated a web-based store for Android.

blackberry-and-apps

Research In Motion today added functionality to its BlackBerry App World website, allowing customers to purchase and download smartphone applications from a desktop browser, which could increase the number of apps installed on BlackBerry handsets due to ease of use. The new feature comes on the heels of recent jabs from Apple over BlackBerry device sales figures and the PlayBook, RIM’s entry into the tablet market. Indeed, the verbal sparring is reaching new lows (or highs, depending on your point-of-view), evidenced by a saucy blog response from RIM’s CEO, Jim Balsillie, with analysis from Tom’s Hardware.

Jabs and Jobs aside, RIM is by no means the first smartphone company to host an online version of its mobile app store: Apple added apps to the web-based iTunes Preview site back in February, while Google demonstrated a version of its online Android Market at its developer event in May. Among these, the title of first to officially offer smartphone apps in a browser goes to RIM. Apple’s web store doesn’t yet support purchases, but instead will open up iTunes desktop software for the transaction. Google’s web-to-smartphone system isn’t yet available, although a third-party site, AppBrain, does provide functionality to buy and send Android software to a handset from the browser.

The importance of the app store update for RIM is two-fold. First, it shows developers that the company is serious about getting apps on BlackBerry devices by strengthening the ecosystem, something it did last month by launching an ad network with analytics. Second, RIM is improving the BlackBerry experience for current and potential customers; although BlackBerry users have relatively fewer apps to choose from — about 10,000 according to Anil Dash — the new store makes it easier to find and install apps on a larger screen. It’s the new customers that may be more important in this case: While the new BlackBerry OS 6 and Torch handset are solid, they may not attract new users away from other platforms, which could stifle sales growth. Without sales growth of handsets, developers, too, could turn their efforts to better-selling platforms, such as Android or iOS.

Although I don’t have a BlackBerry device on hand to use with the online BlackBerry App World, I’ve browsed the storefront in the past and found it to be well designed, an aspect that can help with app discovery. Note that as a daily Android user, I think BlackBerry already exceeds Google’s store when it comes to discovery. So, too, does Apple’s iTunes App Store, currently the gold standard for discovery in my experience.

Combining a solid storefront with simple online transactions (PayPal, credit cards and in some cases, carrier billing are all supported) should boost BlackBerry software sales. That would be ideal for RIM because it currently lags both Apple and Google in the number of apps installed on its devices. A Nielsen survey from last month shows that the average BlackBerry owner reports 14 apps installed, while Android users surveyed have 25 apps and iOS owners hold upwards of 40 apps on their smartphones. Why is that a potential issue? More apps sold can generate more cash for the app store operator, for one thing. As consumers purchase a greater number of apps for their device, they’re really investing in a platform, which is another potential barrier to get customers switching to BlackBerry from iOS or Android.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub. req.):

  1. iPhone users have two options: (a) download an app through iTunes on the desktop and have it automatically install when they plug their phone in, or (b) just download the app directly on their phone.

    I don’t understand how purchasing an app through a web browser would be better than either (a) or (b). This is not something Apple is interested in, so I don’t think it’s fair to say RIM “beat them to the punch.”

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  2. This is only one of the first steps of blackberry taking over again, the second step is the transitioning to QNX… RIM doesn’t need 51 billion dollars and a smart mouth leader to become big! All they need is good tools, great platform and a great store! I with you RIM throw apple under the bus!

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  3. iPhone owners have 2 ways to install apps from their browsers with Appsfire

    1. install the appsfire app. sync it once and from their any click on any app will automatically be pushed to your iphone
    2. install pastefire app. no need for appsfire. each time you see an itunes preview page. click on pastefire and the app store will open to the right page

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  4. I give all the credit in the world to RIM for trying so hard to excel in their business strategies. This is definitely a step forward to get THEIR market out there to the people. Do not forget, this is RIM’s way to get the Blackberry apps market out there — Apple has their iTunes, and so forth.

    While I believe the App Store is the optimal way of discovering apps, in addition to many “catalogs” of apps around the web, RIM’s and Google’s method work well, too. Hmm, don’t forget about WebOS, now! They’re gonna come back with a kick!

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  5. Sorry, I don’t get it, either. It’s super easy to download and install right on iPhone. Why would you need to fire up desktop and sit there to work on finding an app, when I can sit in front of TV and download whatever I want from App store. Android is pretty much the same. So really not getting the message from this article at all. iOS or Andriod can download to desktop as well, maybe for iOS is not brrowers based but it’s not like it’s that hard to click on iTune.

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  6. [...] users lag with 14 third-party apps on their smartphones. RIM is trying to boost that number with an web-based app store for smartphone apps, which will make it easier for consumers to find and install software on their BlackBerry [...]

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  7. [...] RIM Beats Apple to the Punch With App Purchases on Web [...]

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  8. My ideal smartphone would be the upcoming BlackBerry Bold Touch (with the 2.6 inch screen) and iOS. Though I have used the iPhone for a long time, I still miss my Bold 9700. Let’s face it, there is no substitute for a physical keyboard, and BlackBerry does it best. I agree with other posts that Apple’s app store is easier than a web based app store, but I appreciate that RIM is trying to compete. Though RIM’s upcoming hardware offerings are tempting, they would not make me switch to Apple. The OS and the ecosystem are the most important asking points for any smartphone.

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