— App World for BlackBerry users doesn’t have the polish of the App Store for iPhone, but it has promise and potential to make an extremely popular smartphone even more useful.
BlackBerry maker Research In Motion launched its one-stop, phone-based store Wednesday. It isn’t as intuitive, easy or fun to use as Apple’s App Store. But BlackBerry users — ranging from college students to the suit-wearing business class — expect solid performance, not pizzazz from their equipment. And that’s what they’ll get with App World.
App stores — virtual marketplaces for downloading applications, or programs, onto a phone directly — are becoming a knockoff trend in the same way that touchscreens did when the iPhone came out nearly two years ago. Apple started its App Store last summer, and since then, RIM, Nokia, Google, Palm and Microsoft have either started or announced similar efforts. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
The iPhone’s App Store is an icon easily visible on the phone’s screen, needing only one-touch access to get to the store. BlackBerry owners download App World via computer or by using their phones’ Web browser, going to BlackBerry.com.
If you use the phone download, the process moves pretty quickly, a matter of seconds, depending on the model of BlackBerry and the cellular network you’re on. I used one of RIM’s newer models, the BlackBerry Curve 8900, and took advantage of the device’s built-in wireless capability for a speedy download.
Check BlackBerry operating system
First, though, make sure your BlackBerry is App World-qualified. The device needs to be running BlackBerry’s Operating System 4.2 or higher, and also must have either a trackball or make use of the “SurePress” virtual keyboard on the touchscreen BlackBerry Storm,
It’s up to the user to move the App World icon out of the BlackBerry’s Downloads folder to a more visible location, such as the home screen. If you don’t, you’ll wind up taking an extra step every time you want to get to App World.
There’s no flourish when you open App World, no “Ta-da!” “Wow!” or “Awesome!” App World organization is uncluttered (and some might say unimaginative).
Click on its icon, and more than a dozen “featured items,” from Facebook to AOL Instant Messenger, are glimpse-sible on what RIM calls a “Front Page Carousel.”
Icons for categories, top downloads, search and “My World” — where a user’s App World programs are kept — are shown beneath the carousel at the bottom of the screen.
Within categories, for example, in BlackBerry-like fashion, there’s a comprehensive and legible list: Entertainment, Games, Maps & Navigation, Music & Video, News & Weather, Personal Finance & Banking, Personal Health & Wellness, Productivity & Utilities, Professional & Business, Reference & eBooks, Social Networking & Sharing, Sports & Recreation, Travel.
Click on Productivity & Utilities, for example, and another list of sub-categories comes up: Clocks, Calculators & Utilities, Document Management, On-the-Go Productivity and Personal Organization.
Program descriptions are short; perhaps too short, with many only having a few sentences. That may not be enough information to help someone decide whether to buy.
Impressive music programs
Lest anyone think BlackBerrys are all work and no play, there’s an impressive group of programs under “Music & Video,” including Pandora and Slacker Radio, personalized radio programs that are free and also are available for the iPhone.
About 100 of the 500 programs available at App World’s launch were in the Productivity & Utilities category, but another 138 were games. It may have been opening-day jitters, but unfortunately, only one game showed up in the list: South Park 10: The Game ($9.99).
(Another BlackBerry user who ran into the same problem was advised by a fellow “CrackBerry” addict on CrackBerry.com to “just uninstall your Blackberry App World, reboot your phone, and reinstall it. It cleared up the problem for me.”)
By the end of this week, RIM said there will be 1,000 apps available, with more coming continually.
Just as with the App Store, App World users can rate programs with stars and add their own reviews.
There are free programs available in every category, but those that aren’t start at $2.99, compared to the 99-cent floor price for iPhone apps. You often do get what you pay for, and some say there are many 99-cent and $1.99 programs in the App Store that aren’t worth a dime, much less the bother.
Still, users should pay attention to the pricing in App World and consider comparison shopping — something that cannot be done with the iPhone because of Apple’s tight-fisted control over the sale of programs for the device.
App World is not the only way to get programs for the BlackBerry. Several online sites also sell apps that can be downloaded via computer.
No smartphone app store, it seems, is complete without a program that makes the sounds of passing gas, and so it is with App World, which already has a few available, including PhoneyFart. It costs $2.99. Yet the same program goes for 99 cents at CrackBerry.com’s online store, which has hundreds of different programs.
On the flip side, another program, FlipSide MP3 Player, costs $19.95 at CrackBerry.com, but is $9.99 at App World.
Pricing seems high
Pricing on many programs seems high, but the market will determine whether those prices hold or fold. The “Army Body Fat Calculator,” for $11.99, for example, “calculates body fat percentage with the help of rules applied in U.S. Army standards set forth in AR 600-9 or AR 40-501.”
Twelve bucks seems exorbitant, as does $4.99 for a program, Tipper, that helps you figure out what percentage tip to leave and how to divide up a tip between two or more people.
Users pay for App World programs through PayPal. It’s not as simple a buying process as using the App Store, where purchases are handled in one step as part of Apple’s online iTunes Store.
RIM may seek another avenue for payment, perhaps asking wireless carriers to let users charge App World purchases to their phone bills, a company executive told the Associated Press.
For now, App World is off to a good, if not snazzy, start. During the past 18 months, RIM has created a variety of BlackBerrys for consumer and business users. If the company puts the same kind of effort into App World, it will be a win for users and RIM alike.