BusinessWeek is reporting that RIM is close to opening an online application store for its BlackBerry smartphones that will provide its customers with an experience similar to Apple’s App Store. Microsoft, Nokia, and Palm application stores are expected to follow.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but for Apple’s competitors, it’s a matter of necessity. Apple offers iPhone users a seamless experience for discovering, purchasing, and upgrading their applications. The competition lags far behind, but is preparing to counter punch.
The first punch comes from RIM. It will launch its application store in Las Vegas at the CTIA wireless conference, according to the BusinessWeek report. RIM has a fair number of applications available for its platform, but the selection is still limited in comparison to other mobile platforms. That shortcoming was something that I did not like about my BlackBerry, as well as having to reboot my phone every time I installed a new application.
Microsoft’s upcoming store, which it calls Marketplace, has a lot of potential. If Microsoft knows anything, it’s how to keep developers that use its platforms and tools happy. There are already a good number of applications available for Windows Mobile, and I think that Marketplace stands a good chance of being be a decent offering.
The same goes for Nokia. The Symbian operating system is still the most widely used mobile operating system in the world, and there is no shortage of applications available for its devices. The problem has been finding and installing them.
If other phone OS companies open decent storefronts, the iPhone will be less differentiated from the crowd. But Apple may have already gained brand loyalty during the iPhone’s period of App-Store uniqueness. I’m not what you would call a fanboy, but there would have to be a really compelling offering for me to switch to another device from my iPhone. Regardless of what I buy next, I’m just happy that I will have better products to pick from as a consequence of Apple’s leadership and the rest of the industry’s tendency to follow its lead.