RIM tells developers to build 'super apps'

Research In Motion says apps that integrate the device's core functions find most popularity and success; urges developers to provide immersive user experience.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

ORLANDO, FLORIDA--BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) is pushing the idea of a "super app" and urging developers to better integrate apps with the mobile device.

During his keynote at the WES 2010 conference here Tuesday, RIM President and Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis described the "super app" as one that taps the phone's core functions, such as making calls, without needing to exit the app. By keeping the user within the app, the experience presented is more immersive, he said.

"RIM's go-to-market strategy is not in the 99-cent app."
-- David Yach
RIM's software CTO

Lazaridis first talked about the concept earlier this year at the Mobile World Congress show, where he presented the concept as a new class of mobile apps.

However, David Yach, RIM's software CTO told ZDNet Asia the "super app" is about providing a set of recommendations for developers.

In an interview, he said the BlackBerry maker has found that its most popular apps are the ones that integrate the device's native functions into the app's interface. Typically, for example, the apps are able to pull up the phone's contact list and use its camera, Yach explained.

"The 'super app' push is [meant] to educate developers and to tell them that pulling in native functions is [a] common [factor] in successful apps," he said.

Competing against apps leader
This is seen as RIM's attempt to counter the Apple iPhone behemoth in the app arena. While BlackBerry commands a larger share of the global smartphone market compared to Apple's device, the latter has outpaced BlackBerry's App World both in terms of downloads and apps inventory.

RIM reported earlier this week that its mobile device clocks 1 million downloads per day. In comparison, Apple's downloads are estimated at 10 million to 20 million, according to reports. Apple's App Store also has some 180,000 apps as estimated earlier this month, while BlackBerry App World stocks 6,500.

Yach said, however, winning users with apps is not a numbers game. "[Having] more apps doesn't mean better apps," he said.

He also noted that unlike Apple, which mandates all iPhone apps pass through its App Store, RIM customers can choose to get their apps outside its store, either on other company Web sites or developers' sites. This means the number of apps built for RIM devices officially tallied is smaller than the actual number of apps available in the market, he said.

Numbers aside, with the "super app" concept, RIM hopes users will have strong reasons to find their BlackBerrys more indispensible, Yach said. "Having hundreds of apps on your phone is not necessarily helpful," he said.

On the iPhone app gold rush, he said finding success in it as a developer is akin to winning the lottery. "Very few people make money and enough at that to sustain a real business.

"The economics are different selling to enterprises compared to consumers. It's easier to sell to consumers but there are more dollars with enterprise customers," Yach said, on RIM's long-standing positioning of the BlackBerry as an enterprise user device.

"RIM's go-to-market strategy is not in the 99-cent app," he said.

Prettier apps to attract users
Also this week, RIM unveiled its BlackBerry 6 platform that it said will bring a number of UI (user interface) tools to allow developers greater control over the way their apps look.

This was enhanced in response to developers asking for such tools, said Yach, noting that app makers have told RIM that the ability to tweak their UIs will allow for greater traction with users, as well as enabling coders to differentiate their offerings.

Lazaridis' keynote also touched on a move to integrate more social networking information into BlackBerrys, which will pull users' feeds from sites and social networks. This stream can also be pulled into apps through APIs (application programming interfaces), as part of the "super app" concept, and is part of the new BlackBerry 6 redesign which will see more social app notifications as part of the UI.

Slated for release in the next quarter, the BlackBerry 6 platform will come pre-installed on new handsets and a few existing models will be able to upgrade their OSes, said Yach.

Victoria Ho of ZDNet Asia reported from the WES 2010 show in Orlando, Florida.

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