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Research In Motion is undeniably on the ropes at the moment, with the mobile handset maker weathering a decline in global market share, delays on new products, and the departure of its co-CEOs/founders in the last month after several bad quarters. But at a developers’ conference that kicked off today in Amsterdam, the company’s new CEO, Thorsten Heins plus several others put on a brave face and laid out some milestones marking out where RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) is growing — a foundation, of sorts, for how the company hopes to build itself back up in the months ahead.
On a wider-market level, there is good reason for RIM to be hosting a developer conference in Europe: it’s a market where it has had some mixed success of late, but that includes some key wins: data from GfK last week indicated that, in fact, BlackBerry is the most-purchased device brand at the moment in the UK. (Others say Android was the most popular, and still others claim the iPhone ran away with the market.) Thorsten Heins, in his keynote today, noted that 65 percent of the population of Europe, Middle East and Africa are still using feature phones. And that, despite everything, still spells opportunity for RIM.
RIM today said that it now has 60,000 apps in its App World applications storefront — still miniscule compared to the millions that live collectively on the Android Market and Apple’s App Store — but a significant improvement on the 17,000 that were in App World last January. Collectively, the store has seen 2 billion downloads as of last month, with 6 million downloads per day.
The company’s VP of developer relations, Alec Saunders, also repeated a claim we’ve heard before from the company: after Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), AppWorld is the “most profitable” of mobile platforms. This is based on the company claiming to have more paid downloads than Android’s Market, where the vast majority of popular apps are free to download. Part of RIM’s approach has been to enable carrier billing to pay for app downloads — meaning that the apps get charged directly to a users’ bill. That is something that is still nascent on the Market. (Apple handles billing itself via iTunes.) RIM says that it has now enabled carrier billing in 34 different countries
What’s interesting is that Saunders also spelled out a bit of detail on how much money developers are making on the platform: apparently, 13 percent of all app publishers have made $100,000 or more through AppWorld. That detail sparked off some responses:
“On the other platforms, virtually no one covers their investment as anything more than a hobby,” one developer, Matt Baxter-Reynolds, tweeted to me earlier. “That metric is just not believable.” That kind of thinking underscores the idea that apps and app stores are really just there to drive more stickiness to a platform and encourage more hardware sales.
But another raised the point that in fact RIM most likely attracts a different kind of app maker than those who have swarmed to iOS and Android. “I’d say [that is] reasonable,” noted another developer, Shaun Austin. “BB doesn’t seem a platform as likely to attract hobbyists in the way Android/iOS does.”
Of the apps that are selling best, four out of the top 10 on App World are games for the PlayBook tablet, RIM said. You can read that as a vote for engagement for a tablet that has been less than successful against the iPad and Android-based tablet makers.
Last week, RIM released an updated SDK for the BBM Social Platform, a newish area the company has been exploring, leveraging the wide usage it already has for its BlackBerry Messenger service. Today it noted that it now has 50 million people engaging on that platform through various apps, with the most-used of them being the BlackBerry version of Wikitude, an augmented-reality search app.
Looking ahead, it’s products like the BBM Social Platform that are perhaps where RIM should be putting more of its focus: it is, after all, an experience that is unique to RIM and helps set it apart from other handset makers. The company is gearing up for two significant platform updates in the months ahead, with BlackBerry 10 for handsets and PlayBook 2.0 for the tablet, and all eyes will be on how dynamic and easy these will be to use in creating services. RIM has already said that it will be looking for close integration of the BBM Social Platform with BlackBerry 10, which will the see the company doing more in social gaming on the OS.