On Monday, Research in Motion opened up the submission process for its Application Storefront, through which third-party software for the BlackBerry can be sold to the public by its developers — the handset maker's answer to the iPhone App Store and the Android Market. The online Application Storefront is planned to go live in March, and an on-device Application Center is also in the works.
ZDNet UK caught up with Mike Kirkup, RIM's head of developer relations, to discuss what the store means for RIM's developer community.
Q: Google is fairly relaxed about which applications can go into the Android Market, and Apple is quite strict about keeping out App Store submissions that replicate functionality already on the iPhone. What level of gatekeeping does RIM want to exercise over the applications that go onto Storefront?
A: We have the ability today for people to write apps for our platform, and we put no restrictions on when where or how they can distribute those apps — it could be through the BlackBerry site, or something like Handango.
What we're trying to do is build up a catalogue of apps that are easy for customers to find and use. If somebody builds a better calendar app than the one that's natively on the device, we don't have a problem with that, and they are welcome to sell it through existing channels. However, we want to make sure no-one is violating any agreements, and their applications don't use excessive network bandwidth or lewd content.
What do you mean when you say you won't allow apps that use 'excessive bandwidth'?
That will differ across different carriers. We are definitely going to be sensitive to people moving a significant amount of traffic over the carrier's network without an agreement with carrier. The BlackBerry is very focused on managing network performance — we compress a lot of traffic and encrypt, in the case of enterprise traffic. The ones that are going to be in that range [will involve] streaming scenarios, video and audio.
There is quite a shift going on towards open mobile platforms, particularly with Android. Why would a developer address the closed BlackBerry platform when they could develop for a platform that is free to put on a variety of phones?
Our big value proposition for developers centres around the features and functionality we can provide, and our strong leadership position in the market. We have 21 million active users, and the majority are likely to use their device for more than phone calls.
Will RIM ever move towards an open-platform strategy?
We'll find a balance between what's the easiest way to engage developers and create a platform. One of RIM's key advantages is that we build everything from the bottom up in our platform, from the radio to the Java stack to APIs. We provide a consistent experience across all our devices and across the world; it is difficult to replicate the experience across all these different devices [with an open platform].
Eighty percent of the revenues from applications on Storefront will go the developers or vendors. What happens to the other 20 percent?
We have costs associated with that channel, such as our partnership with PayPal. Anything left over would be shared with carriers or kept by RIM.
Will PayPal be the only payment mechanism for Storefront?
At launch, that will be only mechanism that will be available. As for after that, we have plans as to how to evolve the Storefront, but we will see after the launch.
How far back in the BlackBerry range will the applications sold through Storefront work?
It will work back to version 4.2.1 — basically any trackball- or touch-based device. We will make sure we provide developers using the [Storefront] channel a very large user base to attract their application.
Is there anything you would like to add?
We've designed the Storefront from the very beginning to be used for this purpose. There is lots of functionality in it to make it easy for application developers to support it — free trials [of applications] and so on. We also want to make sure we've worked really hard on the rating system to ensure we can provide a lot of value back to the community when people are looking to purchase applications.