Vodafone will be the first Australian carrier to introduce the new BlackBerry App Centre on the forthcoming touchscreen Storm.
Taking another leaf from Apple’s iPhone playbook, RIM will use next month’s debut of the BlackBerry Storm to introduce a carrier-controlled software store where customers can download free and commercial applications. (The Canadian firm already got a touchscreen smartphone and an exclusive single carrier alliance, so why not go for three out of three?)
Called BlackBerry App Centre, it will provide Storm users with the means to browse and buy software over the 3G network. The data download will be included in the Vodafone’s tariff, although RIM and Vodafone have no plans to offer a desktop-based equivalent to the service (unlike Apple’s iTunes, which can access the App Store to download apps and load them onto an iPhone during the next sync session).
Vodafone will have the final say over which applications it chooses to list on the service, with the cost of commercial software purchases being added to the customer’s phone bill. The carrier will also take a cut of the profit from each sale. While a Vodafone spokesman declined to specify an amount RIM’s Vice President for Global Alliances, Jeff McDowell, said “it wouldn’t be much different to Apple”, which takes a flat 30% of sales through the iPhone App Store. “Some may be less and some may be more, but it wouldn’t be far off that number. But RIM takes nothing”.
McDowell was however quick to point out that RIM won’t be following Apple’s approach of making its App Centre the only way to download and install software. “We’re not taking the same approach as some other platforms where you can get apps through one channel. Our strategy is not to exclude.”
“Our partner carriers will partner with companies it makes sense for them to promote because of the billing element or the provision of services as navigation or music, and the customers will love it because it provides easy access to applications that the carriers have chosen. But we also partner with online stores like Handango and Handmark, and they have thousands of applications. And you can also continue to buy applications directly from the vendors, which is something other platforms don’t allow”.
McDowell expects to have “hundreds of applications available for the Storm” at launch, and says the device is “completely compatible with every single BlackBerry app that’s ever been made for a trackball BlackBerry device. It’s called compatibility mode, where you use the touchscreen to move cursor around.”
For Vodafone the App Centre is all about boosting levels of data traffic, says Julien Cozens, Senior PR Manager for Vodafone's consumer operations in the UK.
“Vodafone has an ambition to do more than just voice and text, and the Storm is about driving that” Cozens explains. “From our perspective we want to drive data usage.”
Cozens told APC that Vodafone would be happy to list free applications alongside commercial software as long they encouraged customers to consume more data.
However, software that competes with Vodafone’s own services may not get such an easy ride. “Obviously VoIP is something that we may not want to encourage”he admits, although there’s no risk of that because the Storm has no Wi-Fi radio and thus lacks the ability to bypass the 3G airwaves.
But this approach could have implications for third-party music or navigation software which the carrier may consider to compete with its own Music Store (which will come preloaded on the Storm) and Compass services.
The App Centre is expected to be rolled out on other new BlackBerry models, and will automatically detect which device the customer is using and display only applications that are compatible with that device.David Flynn visited RIM headquarters in Waterloo, Canada as a guest of RIM