Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) is seen as the next stop for the online application express heading through the smartphone industry.
That’s what plenty of fan sites are expecting when the Blackberry maker unveils its next smartphone device, the Storm.
Speculation ramped up after Blackberry fan site Crackberry.com published what it called leaked screenshots of how the app center would look on a Blackberry device.
A research report today by RBC analyst Mike Abramsky noted that RIM would launch a “BlackBerry Apps Center” with the official sales launch of the impending Storm 9530 smartphone. The analyst also wrote that software offerings include the VZ Navigator (Verizon is the Storm’s carrier), Facebook, MySpace, TiVo, Slacker Personal Email and Ticketmaster.
Although none of the sites as well as Abramsky cited any source for their reports, the wide expectation is that an online store called BlackBerry Apps Center will launch when the upcoming Storm handset hits the market. Neither RIM nor VerizonWireless, its partner carrier in the Storm launch, responded to inquiries by press time.
Industry analysts think the success of Apple’s App store is influencing other smartphone makers to launch similar application stores, even enterprise players like RIM.
“RIM never really needed an app store before as its primary customer was enterprise and enterprises find their own apps to run,” said Jack Gold of J.Gold Associates. Plus, RIM already offers a small sampling of applications on its site. For example, users can access compatible software for IM clients and social networking sites for their Blackberry devices.
The expected launch of a new online application store tied to the upcoming Blackberry Storm 9530 makes sense to industry watchers.
“Most consumers don’t know where to go to get apps so a central location makes a lot of sense and is quite convenient,” added Gold. “The app store environment makes it easy for them to achieve economies of scale. Everyone wins — the supplier of the device, the app supplier and the consumer.”
The popularity of Apple’s iPhone Apps store, which launched this past July, rates as a big reason all smartphone makers want a piece of the action. Only one week after going live, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) had tallied 10 million downloads. By some accounts, that number has gone past more than 60 million programs.
iPhone developers receive 70 percent of the application fee paid by users. Apple, which receives the remaining 30 percent, has total control over applications and cites security and quality control as reasons for such distribution control. The online service is accessible from the handset. In the past, most smartphone software was typically only available from carriers, and not directly off handsets.
“With Apple’s success and with RIM’s move more toward the consumer end of the market, it seems natural RIM would move in this same direction. It’s what customers want, and it’s an income opportunity for RIM,” telecom analyst Jeff Kagan told InternetNews.com.
It’s the same principle behind the G1, Google’s first Android-based smartphone coming out this month with T-Mobile and HTC.
The G1 launch arrival will come with shopsavvy.com, which features a bar code scanning feature that lets users compare prices in the store while shopping. Another application, called Ecorio, helps people track their travels and view what their carbon footprints are. A third is Breadcrumbz, which lets people create visual maps using photos. Calls to T-Mobile about its app offering were not returned by press time.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is in the mix, too. The buzz is that it’s building an app store service called SkyMarket for Windows Mobile 7, the upcoming version of its mobile platform.
“App stores are becoming more and more attractive these days. Vendors are trying to create them for the obvious revenue stream, but the tricky part for them is they have to be cautious of not bypassing the operator too much,” Ryan Reith, senior research analyst for IDC, told InternetNews.com.
Sprint has its Digital Lounge, accessible at sprint.com/digitallounge, where customers purchase applications and services.
AT&T’s MEdia Mall 2.0 features more than 90,000 apps from more than 115 different content providers. Additionally, AT&T indexes thousands of applications for availability through the MEdia Net search function.
“Our customers are able to download virtually any application to their handset without restriction. We’re very proud to be leading the industry in this area,” an AT&T spokesperson told InternetNews.com. Since its launch in December 2004, MEdia Mall has generated more than $1 billion in sales, according to the carrier.
“I think we will see more and more operators building their own app stores, as they have the ability to promote across different platforms, and ultimately it would appeal to the developer community as the operators know what will actually make the store shelves,” said Reith.
“There is certainly value in the app stores, the difficulty lies in how to effectively market it in a way that allows consumers the best opportunity for purchases.”