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Channel partners will play key role in BlackBerry application store

With a new BlackBerry app store rumored to be taking aim at Apple, RIM is making sure its partners and carriers stay in the picture.

As the rumored BlackBerry app store draws closer to its launch date, reported to coincide with the launch of Research...

In Motion (RIM)'s first touch-screen phone, the company takes a tack different from that of its two highest-profile competitors, the iPhone and Android stores.

For one thing, RIM insists it will continue to play nice with its biggest fans, the service providers, likely letting them set which apps – and under what terms – users can download and buy.

"We've established a very good channel strategy with our carriers where they can choose the cream of the crop and integrate billing into their systems," said Tyler Lessard, RIM's director of ISV Alliances.

Leaked images of the alleged BlackBerry Application Center, first posted on CrackBerry.com, show RIM sticking to this strategy: The application center will be more of a link repository, pointing users to applications and updates in a simple user interface while leaving the actual hosting to carriers.

In fact, applications are not even downloaded by the application center; instead, users are reportedly going to be redirected to a browser link for the actual downloads.

Asked about the rumored app store, RIM's public relations representative, Rachel Colley, said the company "[could not] comment on rumors, speculation, or unannounced products or initiatives." Lessard pointed out, however, that a number of existing BlackBerry store fronts are already offered through carriers and third-party aggregators like Handango.

Lessard said that this strategy -- having not one but many app stores -- allows carriers to cater to specific niche market segments and, more importantly, to ensure that the proper support channels exist for the software being offered.

"Customers want a simple place to find applications," he said. "But we want to make sure they find applications that are reliable [and that] they can get support for."

Keeping a quality experience free of surprises is something that is critical for the store's success, according to Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst of J. Gold Associates.

"The thing I think RIM needs to be very careful about is to make sure that stuff that goes on the BlackBerry runs," Gold said. "Having schlocky apps out there is not a good idea."

Enterprise impact: minimal

Enterprise interest in a centralized marketplace for applications will be minimal, however, no matter what kind of new digs the BlackBerry store gets.

"Enterprises don't really need a store to go to," Gold said. "Most large enterprises go out and do it on their own."

RIM's ability to offer strong centralized management to enterprises – including the ability to push out software and update it remotely – has helped make (and keep) the BlackBerry the preferred device deployed by many corporate IT departments. Letting users go out and download their own applications willy nilly would not dilute that centralized control.

Gold predicted that the store would be useful for personal productivity apps, but more serious usages would still be deployed either internally or by ISVs.

Lessard made clear that the enterprise market, no matter the marketplace, was one core group that RIM remained committed to.

Even the advances in video and multimedia playback are driven as much by the enterprise as by the new consumer fans, he said, adding that it could be used to push out sales reports or recordings of meetings and, with stronger interest in BlackBerry devices for field service personnel, even live, on-site training.

Where a BlackBerry store might gain some traction is with personal productivity applications that are sold on a per-user basis. But even in the enterprise, more consumer-oriented devices are becoming the norm, and being a "lifestyle device" that fits both professional and personal needs helps ensure continued strong sales.

The multiple store fronts approach, which is apparently the option RIM wants to offer, may also be a winning tactic, Gold said, as opposed to the single store fronts that the iPhone and Android offer (although the Android Marketplace will be a much more open, unrestricted environment).

"I think the difference [between RIM and its competitors] is that they're going to talk to the carriers, and they're not going to do anything that the carriers would think is opposed to their business model," he said. "One of the things that might come about is that they might not just have one store, but multiple stores … an independent one for each carrier."

Supporting a growing community

Development for the BlackBerry has been booming, on both the consumer and enterprise ends, although RIM and its developer partners ) are still learning how to work together. A central app store could help support those developers by giving them equal footing and easy access to all of RIM's million of users.

Lessard said that more than 100,000 developers are active within RIM's developer community, with thousands and thousands of applications ranging from line-of-business to casual games.

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