PluggedIn:In app store war, BlackBerry, Google hold own

By Sinead Carew

June 18, 2010 Updated Apr 22, 2009 at 1:11 PM EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mega-malls may be big, but
when you need a fart noise generator, sometimes it's the
smaller shops that do the trick -- at least that's true of the
crop of virtual mobile retailers called "app stores."

Without doubt, Apple Inc's iTunes App Store rules
the roost. But virtual shopping outposts on BlackBerry and
Android phones offer interesting benefits of their own.

Diehard iPhone fans were skeptical that BlackBerry App
World from mobile e-mail pioneer Research In Motion Ltd
would appeal to the broad range of consumer app
tastes.

But shoppers will find that all of the stores -- BlackBerry
App World, Apple Inc's app store and Google Inc's
Android Market -- work well in practice.

Each offers apps -- small software programs you can
download to a phone -- for practical use (news services and
weather reports) or special interests (virtual pets or weapons
sounds). But the smaller stores have some benefits such as
easier searching and flexibility moving between apps.

SEARCHING THE STORE

If you're looking for variety, there's' no question who
wins: RIM's store has around 1,000 apps; Google counted roughly
2,300 in March. Both are dwarfed by Apple's array of 25,000 --
and it has sold about 1 billion apps in less than a year.

But because of the abundance, there is room to improve the
store's search feature.

"It would be nice if the search results came back in more
of a catalog," said Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart. For
example, sorting through 100 search results might be easier if
they were grouped in categories like gaming or reference.

This is less of an issue in the smaller Android and
BlackBerry stores. Still, users might have to invest some time
deciding which app they want.

"There's a slight case of options overload sometimes,"
said Dan Jones, a user of G1 Android phone and editor of
Unstrung.com web, a wireless industry news site. His favorites
are translators, guitar chord guides and social network apps.

BlackBerry App World has a sleek layout for featured apps,
as users can easily scroll between displays which include the
logo, price and a short description of favorite apps.

In comparison, users of G1, based on Google's Android
system and made by HTC Corp, have to select the
category for its featured apps and then scroll. To seek a
specific Android App, you first click on the menu button to
find the search option. Then you select search, type in your
term and touch the search icon before your results show.

BlackBerry App World makes it easy by keeping a search box
on top of the list. Simply type "Sudoku" in the Puzzles section
and the list automatically loads -- although sometimes the
feature causes a heavily used BlackBerry to crash.

SWITCHING BETWEEN APPS

One advantage G1 users have over iPhone users is that the
G1 can run more than one app at a time. For example, G1 can
automatically broadcast your location, search for nearby
friends or let you receive an instant message, all while you're
in another app.

Apple's users will have to wait for an upcoming software
upgrade for iPhone to get alerts of new instant messages when
they are in a different application.

On BlackBerry, some apps were easier to pop in and out of
than others.

Each store has its own payment methods. Apple's is often
cited as the easiest because iPhone users have already set up
an iTunes account, and logged in a credit card, when they buy
the phone.

BlackBerry App World customers must have an account with
eBay's Inc's online payments service PayPal, a
potentially off-putting notion for those unwilling to sign up
for yet another service and remember yet another password.

Android Market uses Google Checkout, which requires your
credit card details for your first transaction. After that, it
stores your information for follow-up purchases.

Prices make a more striking difference. Android and iPhone
have lots of free apps and many priced below $1. RIM has some
freebies, but its sales start at $2.99 per application.

High fees may encourage better quality, but some users are
perplexed. In a user review of the $2.99 Associated Press news
app for BlackBerry, one customer opined: "Why is iPhone version
free?"

However, the price tag did not deter others, "I had the
free version and felt AP deserved its 2.99" one fan wrote.

As to the logic of fart simulators on BlackBerry, which has
a big following among business users and politicians: "The
teenage boy is never too far from the grown up executive,"
Greengart explained. "I think it's great they can say the
BlackBerry is not just about email."
(Reporting by Sinead Carew, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)




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