Comparing Smartphone App Launches Between iPhone and BlackBerry

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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

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

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

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.

  • bryan

    i hate to say it because i do love blackberry and have used several different models over the course of the last 8 yrs, but this article illustrates the exact reason why my new android phone arrived in the mail today.
    now i'm only experimenting at the moment, but i according to everything i've read and i everything i see in the devices, the market, the carriers and the developers, blackberry is going to get left in the dust if they don't do something soon

  • http://www.blackberrycool.com/ Kyle McInnes

    Android is an interesting platform, and they've clearly done something right when they have in excess of 40 or 50 thousand applications in their store. They've also done a lot wrong. We're seeing a lot of device fragmentation, which is going to cause them the same headaches it has caused BlackBerry developers. Also, where are the paid apps for Canadians? I heard that was being addressed but have yet to hear much else.

  • http://appworld.blackberry.com/webstore/vendor/1111 Eric at Ebscer

    A few thoughts…

    On RIM not promoting an app culture, the one thing they have done very wrong is to not include AppWorld by default on new BlackBerries. There are alot of people who primarily buy the device for email and the qwerty keyboard, and are unaware that apps are even an option. The default “app stores” by the carriers do not have much of anything in them and do not compare to AppWorld at all. This is a very easy problem to fix, but RIM needs to go ahead and just do it.

    As for OpenGL, until it is on more devices there will not be many apps that make use of it. At this point is is hard to justify spending time and money on an application that supports so few devices. Most developers make sure to support all the way back to OS 4.2. With the rollout of OS 5.0 now more or less done (as of today) hopefully that is the minimum device specification in a year or so from now (although at this rate OpenGL still has a way to go).

  • Billy

    I also wonder how this ties in with RIM competing with developers (which BBCool talked about). There are a lot of BlackBerry devices out there and I know lots of people frustrated by the lack or delay of popular applications. (Yes, I know 'people I know' is not a sample size worthy of any weight).

    However, this was a hot topic among people at SXSW this year (at least at the bars). I went to some of the mobile device after hour specials and would pull out my BB and ask where my app was? It was fun!

    RIM also has a fractured OS and I would like to see them get a hold of their OS and dictate the future and upgrades instead of the carriers.

    RIM has the ability and a competitive advantage in many areas. I hope 2010 is the year they harness some of their potential.

    Go 2010 and RIM!

    Thanks for the post Kyle!! Great job!

  • Malcolm

    Please stop using device fragmentation as an excuse for BB developers who are being lazy and stupid. There are only 6 screen size combinations in BB, and 2 of them are just rotated variations.

    Device types and screen resolution in width x height:
    71xx/81xx – 240 x 260
    82xx – 240 x 320
    83xx/85xx/87xx/88xx – 320 x 240
    95xx Portrait – 360 x 480
    89xx/95xx Landscape/96xx/97xx – 480 x 360
    90xx – 480 x 320

    Android and Windows Mobile have far more serious device frag issues than BB. Any good developer can easily write code that adapts for small realignment, screen rotation and spacing changes. And if for some reason a developer can not easily adapt their app's UI on the fly then they have a poorly designed UI and should head back to the drawing board.

  • http://www.blackberrycool.com/ Kyle McInnes

    At the moment, it's true, it's not too bad. Especially since the older devices like the Pearl Flip are quickly becoming obsolete. Also, the new devices they're adding like the Slider, while the screen ratio is maintained, more input methods are added. This is just another headache. You can't deny the beauty in having only 1 device to write code for.

  • http://www.blackberrycool.com/ Kyle McInnes

    I think we're going to see some really big news from RIM about preloading App World. It's one of those constant complaints that is heard throughout the company, and the higher ups are under a lot of pressure to fix. I'm not sure how they'll do it, as the carrier has never been interested in a preload before, but I suspect we won't be complaining about this a year from now.

    I'll bet you that I write the post “App World Now Preloaded on All OS 5 Devices” before 2011.

  • http://www.blackberrycool.com/ Kyle McInnes

    At the moment, it's true, it's not too bad. Especially since the older devices like the Pearl Flip are quickly becoming obsolete. Also, the new devices they're adding like the Slider, while the screen ratio is maintained, more input methods are added. This is just another headache. You can't deny the beauty in having only 1 device to write code for.

  • http://www.blackberrycool.com/ Kyle McInnes

    I think we're going to see some really big news from RIM about preloading App World. It's one of those constant complaints that is heard throughout the company, and the higher ups are under a lot of pressure to fix. I'm not sure how they'll do it, as the carrier has never been interested in a preload before, but I suspect we won't be complaining about this a year from now.

    I'll bet you that I write the post “App World Now Preloaded on All OS 5 Devices” before 2011.

  • http://www.blackberrycool.com/ Kyle McInnes

    I think we're going to see some really big news from RIM about preloading App World. It's one of those constant complaints that is heard throughout the company, and the higher ups are under a lot of pressure to fix. I'm not sure how they'll do it, as the carrier has never been interested in a preload before, but I suspect we won't be complaining about this a year from now.

    I'll bet you that I write the post “App World Now Preloaded on All OS 5 Devices” before 2011.

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