Research In Motion (RIM) is pushing for app quality, not quantity, with its make-or-break BlackBerry 10 devices set for launch on 30 January, and targeting applications to customers in various regions.
RIM's projected 100 000 apps – a record for any new platform at launch – will still be a fraction of those available on Apple or Google devices.
But it is a stronger showing than RIM's PlayBook tablet computer which was slammed at its 2011 launch for a dearth of apps and incomplete software.
In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins admitted that app libraries play a crucial role in the success or failure of smartphones. But he said the game is not just about numbers.
"The tactic we are deploying is by country and by region. We are aiming to have the most important 200 to 400 apps available, because many applications are regional and they really do have a regional flavour," Heins said.RIM says it aims to offer both the most popular applications in the market, and also those most relevant to Blackberry aficionados – people Heins described as hyper-connected multi-taskers who need to get things done.
RIM's ultra-secure BlackBerry was once the smartphone of choice for government and corporate elites. But rivals have taken giant bites out of RIM's market share, especially in North America, and the company's stock has slumped. The BlackBerry remains popular in many emerging markets, partly for its popular BBM messaging system.
With this in mind, RIM has hosted events with developers across the globe.
"We've done 30 jam conferences in various cities all around the world, to get the bucket filled with meaningful local apps and not just a huge bunch of applications that you collect and throw at your audience," he said. "It is a very, very targeted approach."
Heins, who has met with customers and carriers in a series of whirlwind global tours, came across as relaxed and confident in the interview, in RIM's Waterloo headquarters.
Speaking rapid-fire English with just a hint of an accent from his native Germany, he acknowledged that RIM's fate may depend on the success of BB10, but he said feedback from clients has been very encouraging.
RIM hopes its new line of BB10 smartphones will help it claw back market share from Apple's iPhone and devices powered by Google's Android operating system. Developers say they like what they see, but analysts are not convinced that RIM's gamble on BB10 will succeed.
In terms of numbers, RIM's app offering will remain far behind the Apple and Google app stores, each of which boast over 700 000 apps. But Heins said he was not worried.
"In my view it is really short-sighted to say, you have 600 000, you have 400 000 and you only have 100 000 apps, so you are not good," he said.
"Look at how many actually get downloaded. ... BlackBerry App World today is still the most profitable portal for application developers – it has the highest number of paid for downloads."
In a small dig at his rivals, he added: "We don't have 1 500 Solitaire apps. That is not what BlackBerry is about."
RIM has already said it plans business-focused apps from the likes of Cisco WebEx, Box, SAP and Blackboard, as well as music and movie apps like TuneIn, Nobex and Popcornflix, and gaming apps from developers like Gameloft, Halfbrick and Paw Print Games.
Heins has said social networks such as LinkedIn, Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook will all have apps for BB10 at launch. But he declined to name any of the other big name apps that RIM will have on board come launch day.
"Allow me to talk to you about this on 30 January, otherwise I'm losing a lot of thunder," he said.
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