Thorsten Heins claimed that when the Z10 smartphone makes its official debut on US soil that its supporting BlackBerry World apps store will have swollen considerably in size and will have comfortably passed the 100,000-app mark.
A person uses the new Blackberry Z10 device at a Rogers store in Toronto. Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch
If true, it is indeed impressive work by the somewhat embittered smartphone maker. When the touch-screen Z10 and QWERTY-keyboard Q10 were officially launched in January, 70,000 apps were available for early adopters, but BlackBerry has pulled out all of the stops to court and to handsomely reward leading app developers and get them to commit to its supporting ecosystem.
Early reports suggest that the Z10 handset has been performing well since it launched in Canada and the UK, historically two of the company's strongest markets. There have even been stories that 50 percent of customers are moving over from Android or Apple in favor of the phone.
A BB10 tablet strategy in the works?
In the same interview, Heins said that the company was still undecided as to whether or not to pursue a tablet strategy. The company's first attempt, the PlayBook was universally panned by critics when it was launched, but two years later it appears to have developed cult status and is regarded fondly by owners. If there is to be a replacement, it would only exist if it met a specific business or consumer need. "I think the profit pool is very very thin. Kudos to Apple, I think they really managed to own that space, so it doesn't make sense for me to just take this head on. I need to figure out, for my enterprise customers, for my consumers, for my BB10 audience, what can I do that provides them a mobile computing experience in the form factor of a tablet, which goes beyond just the puristic tablet experience," he said.
Pace of innovation
However, as well as offering kudos, Heins was also equally critical of the company that redefined the smartphone market, made touch screens mainstream and invented the concept of the app store. "The rate of innovation is so high in our industry that if you don't innovate at that speed you can be replaced pretty quickly. The user interface on the iPhone, with all due respect for what this invention was all about, is now five years old," he said.
The apps issue
Be that as it may, the iPhone 5 is currently the world's biggest-selling smartphone and its predecessor, the iPhone 4S is the world's second most popular smartphone. And by drawing attention to Apple, BlackBerry is also highlighting its own frailties. A large number of the apps in the BlackBerry World store have not been developed to take advantage of the user interface flourishes that Heins is so proud of, rather they have been ‘ported' from Android. ‘Porting' takes an app designed for one type of operating system and adapts it to work on another. The result is an app that offers basic functionality but one that usually doesn't exploit the handset or the operating system's unique features. An example of this is Instagram: despite serenading from BlackBerry, the photo-sharing site has made it clear that it is not prepared to invest the time and money in developing a bespoke app for the latest BlackBerry phones and is instead porting the Android version of its app. And, if Instagram isn't happy with the resulting product, it will drop all plans in the short term. "We are working constantly on getting these important apps on board," revealed Heins. And although this is a problem that Apple has never experienced, BlackBerry is not the only company in this situation in this regard -- Nokia recently launched its own app that mimics the filters and features of Instagram for Windows Phone 8 users as a way of pressuring the site to support the platform.
The BlackBerry Z10 is available for pre-order in the US now and will be officially launched later this week.