Why offering lots of apps does matter

04 Feb

Apps1It’s a big week for BlackBerry fans as the new Z10 finally arrives in Canada on Tuesday (it launched in the UK last week and is coming to the United States next month). I did a quick and dirty review for CBC last week, with a loooong, in-depth review hitting Canadian Business some time on Monday. (It’s up here.)

Overall, I quite like the new phone. I’ve been using it for much of the past week and have become fond of some of its features, notably the swipe-heavy Flow interface. I’ve also warmed up a bit to the predictive text typing, although I’m still finding it slows me down half the time.

One thing I’m not liking, however, is BlackBerry’s lack of apps. I detailed the 29 apps I use regularly in my in-depth review; fewer than a third of them are available for the Z10. I consider some, such as 680 News (for traffic) and Cineplex for buying movie tickets - not to mention Google Maps - to be mission critical. BlackBerry’s selection is sure to improve over time, but by not having them now, I wouldn’t consider switching yet. Many users will be in the same boat.

Both BlackBerry and Microsoft are preaching quality apps over quantity. As the argument goes, Android and Apple may have 600,000 apps each to choose from, but do those numbers really mean anything when they respectively count dozens of useless fart apps?

Some studies have borne the argument out. Nielsen numbers from last year figure smartphone users downloaded an average of 41 apps, yet stats from the fall from Flurry estimated that only about 13 saw regular usage. In that regard, it’s easy to assume importance of apps has been grossly overstated.

On the other hand, that’s a hasty assumption to make, given that the amount of time people spend using apps surpassed web browsing a long time ago.

Further to that, the belief that overall app numbers don’t matter is outdated. If BlackBerry truly didn’t believe numbers didn’t matter, it wouldn’t have padded its 70,000 launch figure with so many Android ports. The company has admitted that 40 per cent of that figure is made up of Android apps that have simply had a BlackBerry wrapper attached to them. In other words, many of those 70,000 didn’t exactly require much time or effort from developers.

Overall app numbers do matter for three reasons, none of which has to do with farting. For one, Apple’s numbers - and to some extent Android’s - include many, many niche apps. There are hordes of apps dedicated to doctors, pilots, cartographers and cinematographers that the average person may not use, but which people in those specialty professions can’t live without. Those professionals won’t consider switching to Windows or BlackBerry for a second if their mission-critical apps aren’t available.

Secondly, the big app numbers also count a lot of places. Many hotels, shopping malls, museums, airports, even amusement parks now have their own apps and they’re usually exclusively for Apple and Android. These are apps the average person may not use every day, but they do come in handy on the odd occasion, which creates an expectation among users. As in, “Do we need a map of Cedar Point for our trip there this summer? Nope, we can just download the Apple or Android app.”

Thirdly, the overall numbers include a quickly growing catalog of apps for things. As usual, a flood of new gadgets were introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month, with almost all of them ultimately ending up connecting to Apple and Android apps. BlackBerry and Windows were virtually invisible by this measure. This also creates an expectation as well as additional lock-in; if people end up controlling their lights, TV and washing machines via a smartphone app, they’ll be less inclined to switch to a different brand if they lose those capabilities.

Android and Apple have thus reached critical mass, where their huge numbers are only going to get bigger. App ecosystem lock-in is going to get worse, which means the mountain that BlackBerry and Microsoft must overcome is getting taller and taller. BlackBerry is smart to allow Android app porting, which will help, but that still adds an extra layer for developers to support and maintain. It’s therefore fair to ask whether it’s too late for BlackBerry and especially Windows to really get in the game.

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Posted by on February 4, 2013 in apple, Google, microsoft, mobile, RIM


4 Responses to Why offering lots of apps does matter

  1. George Geczy

    February 4, 2013 at 12:17 am

    One big plus with BlackBerry is that the company-formerly-known-as-RIM has really been doing a love-fest with developers. This follows the path that Google also used early on, often giving key developer demographics such as game devs free phones and free tablets to get Android development off the ground.

    BlackBerry finally has terrific developer tools and very engaged developer support. The difference between BB and Microsoft on this front is like night and supernova, with a company like MS never really getting the hang of working with small devs (and small devs being the majority of app development output).

    From a technical perspective the BB platform is stable, fast, and very easy to develop and debug on. Will more devs head to it is one question, but if they have an interest then BB has made it one of the best platforms right now to work on.

  2. Marc Venot

    February 4, 2013 at 12:46 am

    To add something the Blackberry OS is based on QNX which means real time control. If it’s robust enough that open a huge market including robots.

  3. Simon

    February 4, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Hey Pete, in your CB review, you mention battery life was a problem when email retrieval was set to auto instead of manual. Were you using ActiveSync, BES/BIS or Gmail/other? Reason I ask is that I have a feeling that when using BES/BIS, battery life will improve because the push system is optimized from end to end via BlackBerry’s infrastructure, which isn’t true of the other systems.

    • Peter Nowak

      February 4, 2013 at 3:42 pm

      That’s a good question. I was strictly using web mail, not BES or Exchange or anything like that, so I wasn’t able to test battery life that way. That’s one of the downsides to being a freelancer without a corporate master. ; )


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