2009 is the Year of the Mobile App Store. Apple started the movement with the launch of its hugely successful iTunes App Store for the iPhone in 2008, then all the handset heavies followed suit. Today, Nokia operates the Ovi Store; Microsoft's got the upcoming Windows Marketplace for Mobile; Google runs Android Marketplace; and Research In Motion (RIM) runs BlackBerry App World.
The app store competition doesn't stop at the platform level, either, particularly for the BlackBerry crowd. BlackBerry "app stores," both on-device and PC-based, exist for many of the popular BlackBerry blogs like CrackBerry.com, BerryReview.com and BlackBerryRocks.com--though all are powered by the same engine: the Mobihand AppStore, which is probably RIM's most significant App World competitor. BPlay.com's another major player.
BlackBerry App World is flawed as is--to say the least--but it's not irreparable. I could probably list 20 or 30 minor issues that should eventually be addressed; however, I'm sticking to high-level complaints here. The following nine suggested App World tweaks could go a long way to making RIM's app store more user- and device-friendly.
My most significant gripe with BlackBerry App World: it's a memory hog. Hell, the thing's a memory bandit, stealing up almost all of my free application memory every single time I launch it and frequently rendering my device useless until I reset. (Sure, my Bold doesn't have much app memory to begin with, but that's another story altogether...)
Today, I barely use App World at all, because it throws my device through a loop every time I launch it. If RIM wants anyone to seriously consider App World a viable app store option, it absolutely needs to address these memory issues, be it through the addition of app memory on the device level, better controls built into the app itself or the ability to (finally) store apps on microSD memory cards.
RIM has a BlackBerry knowledge base article on the subject of App World memory management, but it merely describes how to uninstall apps when your device gets bogged down.
My World Confusion
In the My World section of BlackBerry App World, users can view their application activity. For example, any and all applications that you download via App World should appear in My World, regardless of whether or not they're currently installed. You can quickly remove apps from your device or replace them. And you can review and recommend software, as well.
The problem: My World proves flaky and unreliable. Applications that I've installed in the past occasionally don't show up at all, which means I cannot reinstall software I previously uninstalled--even if I paid for it. And My World occasionally tells me apps that are running on my device are not installed. Specifically, I downloaded a couple of free app trials and eventually decided to upgrade to the full versions. But App World doesn't register that I upgraded, and My World says only that the trial version is not installed.
If RIM wants folks to feel comfortable dropping cash on App World offerings, it had better ensure that My World won't simply "forget" past purchases. As is, I have little faith in My World.
No PC-Based Backup Option
BlackBerry App World currently offers no simple, PC-based method of backing up purchases or downloads. Sure, My World is supposed to serve that purpose by utilizing "the cloud" for app backups. And crafty users can find ways to back up third-party applications on their own.
I can only speak for myself, but I don't yet trust said cloud to backup my purchases, and I won't be spending any more cash on App World until RIM either convinces me that its online backups are reliable, or it offers another backup option.
Apple lets iPhone users backup all their App Store purchases on computers via iTunes, and this seems like a much more suitable method.
Both Free AND Commercial App Listings
App World breaks down into four main sections, which appear on the main Featured Items screen: Categories, Top Downloads, Search and My World. The names are self-explanatory, and my issue relates to the first three. As is, there's no simple way to look at separate free and "commercial," or paid, apps. Free apps are grouped alongside commercial ones, with no way to differentiate them expect the price tag.
The Categories, Top Downloads and Search sections should all have separate Free and Commercial breakdowns, so users can easily view free and for-cost options without scrolling through pages of listings and checking prices. Such a breakdown would not only give users more control over what they're searching for, but also very likely result in the sale of more applications, which is obviously a good thing for RIM and its developer base.
I honestly don't know a single developer who considers App World a true money-making opportunity, and that's largely because RIM's shoving tons of free application in users' faces while burying the paid content. For example, all 25 of the Top Downloads in BlackBerry App World are currently free apps. Top Downloads is very likely the spot most users pick to begin looking for apps, unless they're seeking something in particular, and the fact that there are not two Top Downloads pages--one for free apps, one for paid ones--certainly doesn't help.
Promote Worthy New Apps
RIM would also do well to create some sort of section for new App World additions. It's very simple for applications to get buried in App World today, and it would be beneficial to all involved if there were some sort of "New Apps" page. As mentioned above, there's already a Featured Apps page, and some of those listed apps could be new. But most tend to be popular offerings or apps from large or noteworthy entities, like the Associated Press, BNet or Forbes.
App World Deals and Promotions
On that note, what better way to convince prospective app buyers to take the plunge than to offer deals, pricing discounts and more? Why do you think your local supermarket, Wal-Mart, drug-store, whatever, constantly offers up coupons and weekly specials? Well, because people tend to purchase more goods and service if they feel as though they're getting a deal. Certain promotions can even be used to draw customers back in the future.
I think offering up "Buy Two Apps, Get One Free" promotions, or something of the like, could go a long way toward boosting App World software sales, though developers would obviously have to agree with any such discounts.
Additional Payment Options
Right now, the only way BlackBerry App World users can purchase software is through online payment service PayPal. If you don't already have a PayPal account, you need to set one up and tie a credit card to it before you can download commercial software.
PayPal is practically a bad word in the information security world. It's the number one online payment service by a long shot. It's also the most commonly targeted online financial service by an equally significant margin. PayPal does a good job of educating its customers to the threats of phishing and identity theft related to its service--check your e-mail filter, I can practically guarantee some of them use PayPal as bait--but there's only so much it can do.
I'm not saying RIM should ditch PayPal altogether, but it should definitely offer some additional payment options, like Google Checkout, for those of use who'd rather avoid PayPal altogether.
BlackBerry devices are everywhere; CrackBerry Nation spans all global boundaries. Yet App World's only available in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. I'm not going to pretend I know all the reasons why RIM only made App World available in these locales. But I do know that App World could certainly benefit from a wider global users base.
More users would have access to more software. Developers would have more eyes looking at their offerings and, potentially, more wallets opening up to pay for them. And RIM would take in more profit as a result. Everyone wins. (Shout out to @Funaki, who's in Bahrain, but would very much like to give App World a test drive.)
More Flatulence-Simulation Apps
I've been saying it since the April launch: BlackBerry App World desperately needs more flatulence-simulation applications, aka, fart apps. Right now, there are only four such apps available on App World, compared to the dozen on the iTunes App Store.
Fart apps are the foundation of any quality mobile software store, and RIM and its BlackBerry developer base would be wise to ramp up production of such offerings.
(Note: I'm being facetious here, and I think that's clear...just wanted to cover my ass--pun gloriously intended.)