After discussing the developer ecosystem internally, as well as with some industry players, the conversation naturally progressed to app launches for the various smartphone platforms out there. While previously we discussed the ecosystem as it pertains to the business side, what about how all of this affects the end user? The easiest way to measure this is how soon do we get the apps we want, relative to other smartphone users, and what feature sets do they come with?
BlackBerry offers the potential for all applications to be, in many ways, better than for other smartphones. Integration through APIs, the added value of push technology, and unique social networking opportunities through BBM, should make BlackBerry the first smartphone that developers think about when building a compelling smartphone app. Also, App World has demonstrated that BlackBerry users have a much higher tolerance for price, and are willing to pay significantly more for applications. But as users we know this doesn’t result in bringing developers to our doorstep. Take a series of examplesof popular applications that almost every BlackBerry user would want, but for one reason or another could not get until well after another smartphone, usually the iPhone, got it first.
LinkedIn for BlackBerry
LinkedIn for BlackBerry launched yesterday, March 29th, 2010 and LinkedIn for iPhone launched August 21st, 2008. Considering the perfect symbiosis between a LinkedIn user and a BlackBerry user, it’s frustrating to see how long after the iPhone release BlackBerry users saw this application. Since the iPhone version has been around for so long, it’s already past version 3.0. In the new version, users even get a fun “bump” style contact exchange, something we may never see in the BlackBerry app.
Shazam launched for the iPhone on June 10th, 2008 and for BlackBerry on January 4th, 2009. While there was only 7 months between launch dates, the BlackBerry version offers some features the iPhone client does not. Shazam’s site lists the BlackBerry client as being able to view video as well as share tags across PIN (obviously the iPhone can’t, but YouTube is impressive). When it comes to purchasing music, the BlackBerry client will clearly never compete. The iPhone has the perfect music purchasing system, something BlackBerry really needs.
Facebook launched their iPhone app on August 14, 2007 and it was met instantly with rave reviews. RIM introduced Facebook for BlackBerry on October 24, 2007, about 3 months later and to date it remains buggy and not quite the app users expected. Comparing the app reviews on their relative Facebook pages, it’s obvious that iPhone users are much happier with their Facebook app.
Skype is probably the best example of apps that arrived on another smartphone first. Skype was first launched on the iPhone on March 31st, 2009 and the BlackBerry version launched only for Verizon BlackBerry users on the 25th of March 2010; almost exactly a year later. Granted, the iPhone version only allows you to Skype other users while on WiFi and I believe the Verizon version will let you do it anywhere, you can’t deny the power of ubiquity that Apple commands. This app is in high demand by BlackBerry users everywhere, and the exclusive to Verizon was a bit of a slap in the face to the rest of users across North America and Europe.
Even though there is a long list of applications that were on other smartphones first, that doesn’t mean BlackBerry has lost every single race. Many smaller developer operations will port their BlackBerry app to the iPhone if they’ve had relative success. For example, Copy2Contact recently announced they are available on the iPhone. Also BugMe! ported their application to iPhone after having a successful run at BlackBerry. While the smaller firms are testing the waters on other smartphones after success on BlackBerry, the big players will still generally not choose BlackBerry first. So why?
Considering the incredible number of devices, and therefore the huge market potential for developers, one has to ask why not develop for BlackBerry first. Here are a few reasons:
1) BlackBerry development costs are higher. Developing for BlackBerry is more costly than for other platforms for two main reasons: the code is more complex and device fragmentation means more porting. Both of these factors make development for BlackBerry cost more hours and therefore more money.
2) Marketing has failed to promote an app culture. There are still a large number of BlackBerry users who still don’t know, or care, to download an application to their device. It’s not clear who is to blame for this, and my guess is that’s exactly where the problem lies. Is it RIM’s responsibility to educate the user about apps and the value of a data plan, or is it the carrier? Someone needs to take control of the marketing budget, and do a better job of telling users the power that can be unlocked with third party applications. Purely from an anecdotal standpoint, I’ve had many people ask me what I’m playing on my BlackBerry and tell me they had no idea they could play a game on their device.
3) Smartphone users without a data plan. In speaking with our smartphone retail guru RogersDude69, it seems the number of users on a BlackBerry without a smartphone plan is fairly insignificant, but does exist. AT&T has begun requiring a data plan with smartphones but it doesn’t seem as though any other carrier have followed suit. I do know several BlackBerry users who purchased the device for its QWERTY keyboard, and therefore do not have a data plan, but I have yet to see an iPhone user with no data plan.
4) There are still some hardware issues. The example of Google Earth coming to the iPhone is a good example of where the hardware for BlackBerry could be better designed to suit the needs of the consumer, and the average smartphone user. While I wouldn’t call Google Earth a must-have application, the graphics processing that is required allows for some very compelling games. The latest CDMA BlackBerrys have chips, able to support this sort of OpenGL 3D graphics, but we have yet to see anything significant in the way of software.
Applications are increasingly becoming an integral part of the smartphone experience. Since the smartphone is such a personal tool, each user demands a slightly different feature set, which apps can provide. Some users are gamers, others are all productivity, but with a robust developer community behind the smartphone, the platform can accommodate. As the entire world moves towards smartphones, the average user is going to demand the above situation is resolved, or BlackBerry will fall behind as the smartphone that doesn’t deliver the apps you need, as soon as they’re available.