How to develop and market a 3rd party BlackBerry app

Image courtesy of Simon Sage

As a BlackBerry developer, I have my own ideas about what makes a great BlackBerry application. I took the time to develop a list of concepts that I believe are important in the development process.

1. The User Interface (UI)

It’s vital to choose an appealing and not too over-done and crowded user interface. For the user it is essential to know from only looking at the interface what he has to do and how he sets the options in the application. Give your fields, check boxes and radio buttons appropriate titles or subjects. Short, descriptive words are a must.

I have already seen some utility apps where the UI is awfully crowded in the main screen. You look at all the options and feel like de-installing it because you will never know what all those buttons and checkbox do. Match similar options and put them into a separate screen with an appropriate title. Think about the novice BlackBerry-user, they don’t know all those settings and what they will do when you select them.

Even though I talked about an appealing and nicely looking UI, you cannot compare the iPhone user interface of applications to the rather sober-looking interface of BlackBerry apps. The BlackBerry OS is not aimed at fancy looking UI-Applications; it keeps the business factor. Personally, I love it!

2. The Application Description on the Reseller’s Channel

a. The short description
b. The long and informative description
c. Screenshots and/or link to YouTube Video
d. The application icon
e. A Trial Version

All those 5 individual representations of your application are extremely important. Each of these display your application to a potential buyer. Depending on how you structure them, it could sway the customer’s opinion.

Here is a breakdown of each criteria:

a) The short description:
Keep it short and simple but on the spot, no redundant words or funky looking characters. No one finds an application appealing or professional when it contains ASCII Art such as (_.-^My APP^-._)

b) The long description:
It’s vital that the application description in the reseller’s channel, may it be MobiHand or the BlackBerry AppWorld, looks attractive and striking to the customer. There are some descriptions on the MobiHand network that really turn me off before actually looking at the application itself.

Make sure you use compelling keywords and accurate descriptions to highlight your application. Write in paragraphs so that the potential buyer doesn’t see a huge, massive block of words which can be a turn-off.

Again, don’t use ASCII Art or something similar (eg. ====>>>> Best APPLICATION < <<<====). State what the application does, what the advantages are and how you personally could find a use in it. If your mother tongue isn’t English or you are not sure about the grammar and spelling, get it proof-read by someone who is. Typing errors or misleading sentences do not contribute to the professionalism of the application.

c) Screenshots and/or videos
Screenshots are one of the most important application descriptions since a picture is worth a thousand words. Through a screenshot, the potential buyer gets insight into the application prior downloading or installing it. Make sure your screenshots show the important and relevant screens of your application and are good quality, not pixelized or scaled wrong.

For some time now, the MobiHand network has allowed developers to submit videos as well as screenshots. That is an awesome addition because an application walk-through video can show the user how it actually feels to use the application and how it runs. Often videos are used instead of trial versions.

d) The application icon
The application icon might be small but it has immense power. The more professional your icon looks, the better your application is presented. It’s important to use a transparent icon that is not too big or too small for the device you write the application for. On the newer devices you can use roll-over icons which change its appearance when you scroll over them or touch them as per the BlackBerry Storm. Other applications, like Weather apps, use the application icon to represent application data – may it be the current weather or the temperature.

e) A Trial Version
Trial versions are the most important representations of your (commercial) application. They provide the user with a view of the application without spending only one cent on it. Through a trial version you can test if the application actually runs on your device, if you are comfortable with it and most important: if you actually use that app. Most applications have a 7-day trial period in which you can use it without limitation. After those 7 days it stops working and you are requested to buy the license key.

3. Updates

Updates are fundamental to keep your application in the Bestseller-List. As soon as the user feels like the application is neglected by the developer he loses interest and probably won’t recommend it to someone else.

An application can always be improved and worked on. May it be bugs you find from time to time or compatibility with new devices. For example, there’s no need to not support the Storm. It’s worth it to resize your images, add some code and port your application to as many devices as possible. Sure, some APIs are not supported on some devices, but most applications can be ported to newer device models.

4. Customer support

“Der Kunde ist König” is a German saying meaning that “the customer is the king.” Treat him that way and answer his or her emails in a timely manner. Listen to the suggestions the users make and implement those ideas into a new build of the application. Do that quickly so that the customer feels that the application is being worked on and tailored to his/her needs.

5. Develop your own ideas

Developers: get your own ideas. There’s no need to write the 7th VibAndRing application or try to follow Joel Comm’s iFart-app-success.

Oh, and while we’re talking about fart-apps, they are incredibly useless. I have never ever installed one, it’s just a waste of application memory!

Your wwn ideas pay off the best. Think about something that has never been done before. Developers like dmglakewood or phrehnck are really good at this. Their apps are awesome because they have unique ideas! Come up with thoughts that the world of BlackBerry has never seen before. It’s interesting to observe how the community reacts to your ideas. It’s also interesting to see the community say: “wow, I can’t believe nobody thought about that before!”

6. Wireless download possibility

For the user, it is very convenient when an application has an OTA-Link (Over-the-air-link) so that one can download an application straight to their device. Otherwise, the user must first connect their BlackBerry to their PC and make sure they have the proper version of Desktop Manager installed and so on. On the BlackBerry App World, all downloads are OTA but on the MobiHand network, you can either upload the .zip file for Desktop Installation or the .jad and .cod for an OTA-installation.

I hope that through this article I can be of assistance to some beginners with starting developing applications for the BlackBerry OS. From time to time I will write more articles on BlackBerry development, since it’s truly the most fascinating platform for mobile devices.

Follow me on Twitter, I also “tweet” about BlackBerry development from time to time.

Also, take the time to check out the applications I have written in the MobiHand network.

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