BlackBerry users now have their own mobile store for music, games and business applications as Research In Motion takes on competitor iPhone's popular App Store and other newcomers in the field.
BlackBerry App World launches Wednesday with about 1,000 mobile applications — including some aimed specifically at Canadians.
RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said software applications have become a standard in the smartphone industry in the last year and consumers expect them.
"They're incredibly important," Balsillie told the Canadian Press.
RIM and iPhone maker Apple are in a battle for smartphone supremacy in North America. The companies were No. 1 and 2 respectively in terms of the number of smartphones shipped last year, tracking firm IDC Canada says.
But Apple has been in the market for almost a year with its App Store, with about 25,000 programs available and about 800 million downloads reported.
Balsillie said RIM will offer apps for everything from music and entertainment to news and information.
Apps driving smartphone sales
PC Magazine analyst Sascha Segan said RIM is not alone in taking on the iPhone and its App Store. Microsoft Inc., Google, Nokia and Samsung are among those joining the trend with their own stores.
"All of the smartphone manufacturers have Apple's tremendous success in their sights right now," said Segan, lead analyst for mobile devices for the U.S. technology publication. "They want to take down Apple by doing the application store thing better."
The popularity of games, maps, weather forecasts and literally thousands of other software applications for smartphones are driving their growth.
An application store will be one more check mark for consumers when they're deciding to buy a mobile phone.
"Our world is changing and quickly, and you have to adapt," Balsillie said.
"So the bottom line is having a broad set of consumer applications of varying price points that is very open and democratic has been a critical part of what people expect on a smartphone platform."
Balsillie noted there are already "tens of thousands" of BlackBerry apps available, but BlackBerry App World allows both small and large software developers to come to a ready-made platform.
One of the new applications will be a Canadian news service, in English and French, provided by the Canadian Press in partnership with other major news organizations, including CTVglobemedia, Torstar, Winnipeg Free Press and Transcontinental.
"This is part of a very powerful channel for you to do these kinds of things. It's an important part of what's at play," Balsillie said of the mobile news service.
Balsillie also said music will be a big part of the virtual app store, adding that RIM will announce it will carry the app Shazam, which identifies songs and allows users to buy them. Shazam is already available for iPhone users. He didn't announce details of other apps on the virtual store.
Analyst Nick Agostino said he believes RIM's store is primarily geared to the business community, but it will help the BlackBerry name.
"It's going to help make sure that they build their brand and people don't turn around and say, 'Where's your app store."' said Agostino of Toronto-based Research Capital Corp.
So what apps does Balsillie have on his BlackBerry?
He said he uses an SAP app for RIM sales and performance, Hockeynews.com for the latest scores and standings, Magmic for card games and others for news and information.
"So when I am bored, I play card games," he said. "Guilty as charged."