DM: So Mike, tell us a little about the relationship RIM has with its developers please?
MK: Sure. We have an open approach compared to our competitors, where people can download apps from anywhere to anyone, so App World is just one of many distribution platforms for BlackBerry apps; it doesn’t matter whether you’re selling to enterprise, through the system integrator channel, or off your website, it’s all possible. Also, carriers can negotiate agreements with developers to have a virtual preload, where the device is distributed with the app pre-loaded on it, and take a revenue share. One good example of this is Telmap’s turn-by-turn navigation app, which is white-labelled with a variety of carriers.
DM: Is it possible then that a BlackBerry app might not even appear on App World?
MK: For sure, a lot of vendors don’t put them on App World. Google is one example. But as we see it, the commercialisation of mob apps is in its infancy. So we are building a proper commercialisation platform, because whatever is possible on a platform, developers will jump through hoops if there is money to be made, so we are making sure that we help them to be successful.
MK: We have made some enhancements to BlackBerry App World. The next iteration will have enhancements to the billing model and we will also make it easier for people to find new apps. But the biggest development is the addition of new payment models. We have supported PayPal from the beginning, but it’s not effective in terms of global coverage, so we are adding credit cards and carrier billing.
The only other company that does this is Nokia with Ovi Store, but they only do it with certain carriers, and they charge you on top of the distribution charge. So they take 30 per cent and the developer gets 70 per cent, but then the charge for carrier billing comes out of the developer’s 70 per cent share. We have not done that. With us, it will always be 70/30 in the developer’s favour. This is a huge win for the developer community; it really incentivises them to sell as much as they can.
DM: So which operators are you working with on this?
MK: We have not named them, but we have well over 50, covering the majors, and we are now working through it with them to get the business deals in place.
DM: And do you have any stats on App World you can share with us?
MK: Sure. We have over 8,000 apps in App World, though as I said earlier, that’s not all of them. Because we leave it open, we don’ know how many there are. One company has deployed 16 BlackBerry apps in their organisation over the last two and a half years, everything from expense management to specific apps for different parts of the business. As of the end of April, downloads were running at the rate of approaching 1m per day. And we have 250,000 registered developers, which is 100 per cent up on last year.
DM: And what’s the ratio of free to paid apps on BlackBerry?
MK: We have more free than paid, but the proportion of apps that are free is not as high as on some of the other platforms. We also have a minimum price for apps of $2.99. This gives developers a floor, a minimum amount of revenue that they can expect from a paid app.
The other thing we are working on is something called ‘Super Apps’. This is something we announced in February, and it’s about the concept of an app experience that is unlike anything you will experience using apps on other platforms, where you get islands of apps working in isolation.
With Super Apps, if you look at a turn-by-turn navigation app, for example, you want to get to a meeting, so you go to your calendar, get the address and cut and paste it into the satnav app. So these are the separate islands I talked about. With a BlackBerry Super App, you fire up the calendar, click on the address, select ‘Navigate to here’, and it invokes the satnav app. So it’s intuitive integration across different apps. This has been built into our platform from the beginning because of our enterprise heritage, and now we are taking it into the consumer space and building apps that meet these expectations, using push notifications, social media etc.
At the end of April we launched the Super App Developer Challenge, sponsored by BlackBerry Partners Fund, a VC fund that is focused on finding good mobile apps. We wanted to promote the best Super Apps worldwide and create a challenge that would promote the success of the apps, so the prize structure is focused on the promotion of the apps to make them successful. So we are offering go-to-market strategy sessions, advice on how to localise apps into different languages. We also have funds for advertising space, so the developers can promote their apps through banner ads on the mobile web and in other applications. So it’s all focused on ensuring that developers get a continuous revenue stream coming in to their company.
The challenge is running now, it’s open until 6 September, and there’s over $1.5m up for grab for the winners in each region. There’s more information on the website.
We will also help people who want to take a freemium strategy. We have no intention of buying an ad network, but we provide a mediation platform – a layer between the developer community and ad networks out there to put ads for apps into other apps that are participating in the service.
We get the ad down to the device, show it in the app and any actions resulting from the ad, we track it and cut the app developer a cheque for their participation. So we’re helping developers to generate revenue from free apps.
DM: And just leaving apps to one side for the moment. BlackBerry has always been thought of a businessman/woman’s phone, but everywhere you look now, you see teenagers using Blackberrys. Have you been surprised at how quickly the youth market has adopted the BlackBerry as their handset of choice?
MK: Well the BlackBerry platform was built to be a communications platform, so there’s no difference in that respect. All that’s different is the mode by which they are communicating. For the executive class, it’s email, and for today’s youth, it’s BlackBerry Messenger, our free peer-to-peer messaging platform that has some of the functionality of SMS, but offers more in terms of status updates and picture updates. So I can see why it’s happened, but it’s true, the speed and scale with which that transition happened has been amazing, in terms of the uptake figures.