BlackBerry to Get App Store, Developer Tools

BlackBerry Storm
BlackBerry Storm
Source: RIM

Research in Motion is following the leads of Apple and Android in creating an application storefront for its BlackBerry device, in a bid to make it simpler and more enticing for developers to create and sell their own apps for the mobile devices.

The new BlackBerry store front, announced during RIM’s (NASDAQ: RIMM) first-ever developer conference, won’t make its official debut until March. However, the company plans to begin accepting applications in December and said it is working with PayPal to build a payment system for the store.

BlackBerry developers will set their own application fees and retain 80 percent of revenue, RIM said. In addition, the handset maker said in a release that it is working with its mobile carrier partners to create customized, on-device application centers for their subscribers.

In a keynote speech this morning in Santa Clara, Calif., Mike Lazaridis, RIM’s founder, president and co-CEO, told an audience of 700 developers he views the Internet as the main roadway for application delivery. He also said Web-enabled apps would be key to the platform’s success in the future — a strategy that’s been embraced by new smartphone rivals like Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and the Google-backed Android platform.

“We see it as the entrance to an easy path to getting applications to market,” Lazaridis said, adding the Web is “the ramp and low-cost way to bring new applications to the BlackBerry platform.”

Rumors have persisted for some time about RIM’s creation of an application store, which offer a quick download process directly onto the handset and a outlet for developers to sell their programs.

Other rivals have similarly hopped on the trend of creating mobile storefronts. Apple’s App Store application marketplace for its iPhone, which debuted with the launch of the iPhone 3G, has proven to be huge hit with users. The open source Android project is following suit with the Android Market, which debuted officially at the end of September and currently contains about a dozen applications. It’s slated for availability only on the industry’s first Android device, the T-Mobile HTC G1 smartphone, which arrives in stores tomorrow. Microsoft is also thought to be working on a similar introduction.

The effort comes as RIM and all smartphone makers, along with their carrier partners, face increasing pressure to deliver advanced mobile services and features to retain and gain subscribers and market share.

While BlackBerry is the top enterprise smartphone today, according to research reports, it is facing competition as it pushes deeper into the consumer market to expand beyond its stronghold in the workplace.

Apple’s iPhone has emerged as a consumer favorite, and new challengers are arriving every month from handset makers. The latest is the recently unveiled T-Mobile G1, although HP, Palm and Nokia are all planning or currently fielding devices aimed at capturing a share of the market for high-end smartphones that support advanced mobile applications.

In support of its increasing focus on Web-based apps, RIM announced plug-ins for Eclipse and Microsoft Visual Studio, designed to make it easier for developers to build applications on its platforms. It also unveiled support for Gears, a tool initially created by Google that provides for building standalone Web applications that can be available to users in or out of a network.

RIM has also developed BlackBerry Web Signals, an application that lets content providers “push” alerts to BlackBerry users about new online content. For example, an icon will alert users to breaking sports or news at the Washington Post Web site.

In addressing the developer audience today, Lazaridis said the conference is an opportunity for RIM to share lessons learned by its internal development and research team, and he urged attendees to share and learn from each other as well.

“We want you to challenge our developers and tell them what you like and don’t like and most important what you need,” Lazaridis said.

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