By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, May 10, 2009
The smartphone industry finally seems to agree on this point: Adding applications to phones is not exactly fun.
You're supposed to find a program on the Web, download it to a phone (or a computer connected to a phone), find that download and run some install routine. Considering all the detours that can involve, you shouldn't be surprised to see so many smartphones with only one or two extra programs onboard.
But now, phone manufacturers are setting up simple software catalogues that can put new programs on a phone with only a few taps of its screen or keyboard.
Apple made this concept a mass-market reality with the App Store it added to the iPhone (and iPod Touch) last year, Google followed with its Android Market, and last month BlackBerry manufacturer Research In Motion joined the club by shipping its BlackBerry App World program.
Unlike those other systems, however, App World doesn't come built into new phones and requires manual installation under the old, inelegant process.
Assuming you have a compatible model -- a group that includes the popular Curve, which actually outsold the iPhone in the first quarter of this year, Pearl, Bold and Storm models -- you have to visit RIM's App World page (http://blackberry.com/appworld) on your phone, download this program, and then run its installer.
Once set up, App World should appear on your phone's home screen. Skip its gallery of oddly chosen "Featured" programs and instead look at its categorized lists of applications (under a folders icon) and its ranking of "Top Downloads" (under a starred-folder icon). You can also search for a program by selecting a magnifying-glass icon.
A copy of App World will only list programs compatible with the BlackBerry model on which it's running; Wednesday, the program offered 822 programs for a Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Storm. RIM spokeswoman Rachel Colley wrote in an e-mail that "more than 1,000" programs are available -- a tiny fraction of the 35,000-plus titles Apple claims for its App Store. Despite RIM's business-first reputation, the most popular category displayed on the Storm was "Games," with 209 applications listed -- a few more than the 205 offered under the "Productivity & Utilities" category. The App World collection includes some iPhone favorites, such as the Pandora and Slacker Internet-radio programs and a front end to the Facebook social-networking site.
This inventory does not, however, include every BlackBerry application. Programs must go through a review process before showing up in App World, so some newer applications may not appear for a while -- for instance, the shopping program Amazon.com released last month was not listed on Thursday.
Some App World offerings are free, but many others cost at least $2.99. (RIM's policies set that floor, eliminating the possibility of 99-cent programs.) Some are considerably more; $19.99 apps seem fairly common, and a navigation program from TeleNav sells for $99.99. RIM requires a PayPal account for App World purchases.
App World falls short of the standards set by the iPhone and Android application stores in some major aspects. You can't sort its listings by price or user review, and many App World screens take a few distracting seconds to display. Individual program listings save their descriptions for last, requiring scrolling down to find out just what the program proposes to do.
App World also leaves one basic file-management task undone. All of the App World-installed programs were left on the Storm's Downloads folder, not more logical destinations such as its Applications or Games folders. Like the iPhone and Android stores, App World tracks which programs have updates waiting, flagging them in its "My World" list of installed applications. You can also uninstall them from this screen, although that function doesn't appear on each program's "Details" page.
For all of this new software system's faults, it represents a major improvement over what RIM offered before -- much less what Microsoft provides in its Windows Mobile operating system. (Windows Mobile 6.5, due later this year, will add a Windows Marketplace for Mobile" storefront that should finally bring some sanity to that process.)
But the App World and all of these other smartphone application storefronts also make the experience of adding programs on regular Windows computers look pretty miserable in comparison.
Think about it: You have to find programs across the Web, decide on your own if they're trustworthy-- a task at which too many inexperienced users fail -- download their installer files, find those files on your desktop, and then sit through lengthy installation routines and hope for the best.
Somebody ought to be able to do that better, too.