The new battleground in the mobile market is applications. Gone are the days when offering push email and calendar syncing was enough to get the vote of the smartphone fraternity. Whether you want to Twitter or Flickr, downloading a dedicated widget is where it's at.
Apple's iPhone has the App Store, T-Mobile's G1 has the Android Market – and now RIM is getting in on the act with two dedicated app outlets to complement its highly anticipated BlackBerry Storm. So what can we expect from the king of corporate communications?
Inside the BlackBerry Application Centre
Well, if you're won over by the Storm's new mix of consumer-cool and enterprise experience you'll soon find the on-device Application Centre. Working with the Storm's new 4.7 operating system, the Application Centre pulls down an up-to-date list of available applications from RIM's server. Unlike the iPhone's App Store, the Application Centre is hosted by the network provider – in the case of the Storm, Vodafone – so the network has complete control over what is available.
Users will be able to browse the list and install apps direct from the Applications screen with a single click, receiving onscreen prompts when an update becomes available. Not surprisingly, social networking and messaging apps dominate the Storm's profile. Most instant messaging platforms are catered for (Google Talk, Yahoo! Messenger, AOL and Windows Live) as well as the ever-present Facebook and Flickr. You can also download regular staples such as a YouTube app that integrates with the Storm's video camera and Google Maps. This list is likely to grow as Vodafone builds up its catalogue and offers more paid-for apps that can be charged to your monthly bill.
BlackBerry Application Storefront coming in March
The good news for developers and app fans is that RIM will also be launching a separate Application Storefront … the bad news is we won't get to see it until March 2009. Improvements to the browser on the BlackBerry Storm will make it an attractive proposition for developers – as will the 80 per cent share in the proceeds. A deal with PayPal is likely to take care of billing issues in the absence of an iTunes style account, and will no doubt lead to eBay being one of the first apps to debut.
The time lag between the launch of the Storefront and the imminent availability of the Storm is a disappointment for those hoping to find an alternative to Apple's iPhone. But if Vodafone plays its cards right and continues to populate the on-device Application Centre, it could be a good enough bridging measure to sate the desire of app-addicts in the interim.