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RIM's BlackBerry 10 apps strategy begins to take shape

RIM is currently lining up high-quality apps for its BlackBerry 10 OS launch, which looks to be coming sometime after 21 January, 2013.

That's the deadline for developers to be eligible for RIM's "10K commitment," a promotion where they're guaranteed at least $10,000 (about £6,240) each if their app passes quality standards and makes $1,000 (£624) on its own. App World opened for BlackBerry 10 submissions yesterday.

RIM's vice president of developer relations, Alec Saunders, wouldn't say whether the 10K commitment deadline is tied to the planned platform launch, saying only that the new BB10 OS is still scheduled for "the first quarter" of the year, despite recent speculation to the contrary. But with the 10K Commitment apps guaranteed (Ed. note: likely...) to be good, RIM probably wants to launch its new phones with those apps in the store.

"Our goal is to get a mass of apps in the store ahead of launch," Saunders said.

Easy to write for

There are already 105,000 apps in BlackBerry App World, Saunders said. But to take advantage of the many new features of BlackBerry 10, which we had a hands-on with last month, developers will need to start over. Fortunately, that's pretty easy, Saunders said.

"At BlackBerry Jam Americas we handed out the first 'dev alpha' [devices] with the first releases of software on them. People lined up at 7 [in the morning], and by noon, people had code running," he said.

Saunders said it's important to RIM to make it lucrative and easy to write apps for the new platform. Developers who choose to write apps for BlackBerry will be able to use a wide range of APIs, and widespread carrier billing has made it easy for even teenage consumers to pay for apps, he added.

"The average BlackBerry developer is making $4,000/month (£2,500) from their work," Saunders claimed. "In markets where we've activated carrier billing, we see dramatic increases in downloads and purchases of applications. ... it's been a really important point for us because a lot of these kids won't qualify for PayPal or Visa, but they're paying a cell phone bill."

"Pent up demand"

Of course, for developers to support a platform, someone has to be buying the phones. BlackBerry market share has been cratering in North America and is now under 5 per cent of all smartphones sold worldwide according to at least one source. But the platform is still doing well in other countries, and there's a "pent up demand" among the 80 million existing BlackBerry users for new devices, Saunders said.

"We know from speaking to people who have left BlackBerry how much they miss it, and we know from the surveys we've done that there will be demand," he said.

But RIM faces some tough competition. Microsoft is releasing a slew of Windows Phone 8 devices in the next month or so, including the Samsung Ativ S and the HTC 8X. Apple's iPhone 5 is already a best-seller, and the company is rumoured to be filling in its tablet line with an "iPad mini" soon. And the many devices based on Google's Android OS, together, dominate mobile market share charts.

"I look at competition in the industry and the market as being cyclical," Saunders said. "Right now we know a lot of developers are spending time on [the Windows] ecosystem. I think to myself, okay, the next thing they're going to be looking at is the BlackBerry ecosystem."

And by focusing on Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's old cry of "developers, developers, developers," Saunders hopes to win some fans over from the larger platforms.

"There are two things I consistently hear from developers now. One of them is, 'we had no idea it was so easy to build on this platform,' and the second is, 'RIM treats us better than anybody else in mobile today," he said.