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BlackBerry App World 2.0: Single User ID, Carrier Billing & More

Research In Motion's new App World 2.0 provides more payment options, a streamlined app management experience and a single BlackBerry ID.

Research In Motion, in a continuing effort to attract developers and make its Blackberry smartphones more application centric, announced App World 2.0 Wednesday, providing a host of new user experience and performance updates, and expanding the way users can pay for applications (including carrier billing) beyond the very limited options available now.

Probably the most significant change RIM is making is on the commerce side. Until now, the only way to pay for BlackBerry applications was to use a PayPal account. That doesn't go away, but in addition, users can pay by credit card, or simply go the carrier billing route -- I've heard RIM's goal is to make carrier billing available on every phone by 2011. This, combined with RIM's new Blackberry ID, provides a much simpler way to move applications between devices, or simply to manage application portfolios. PayPal may have been sufficient for some users, but this will be a welcome move for most users.

Blackberry ID, which is being introduced with the announcement of App World 2.0, will become a standard part of almost everything users do -- a way for a user to be tied to a single user account, regardless of device or network. BlackBerry customers can also us the ID on the web store later this Summer (here, users download the application and install it on their device later).

A RIM source said that developers at BlackBerry's DevCon and Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES) were the most excited about the new payment methods, since it will surely give users more flexibility, which should, in turn, drive more application purchases. Its catalog has more than 6,500 applications and gets one million downloads per day among its 20 million active users. So it's no slouch, but it certainly doesn't have the application footprint (nor mindshare) of Apple or Google.

One true enterprise concern about paid services, like applications, especially when using carrier billing, is how to set up policies that prevent users from racking up huge bills on the corporate carrier account. Fund-raising drives, like the Haiti earthquake relief effort, often bring this issue into more urgent view. RIM, always mindful of enterprise concerns, allows administrators to set up policies to block these efforts, or to block carrier billing altogether on corporate-controlled devices.

Some of the other enhancements to App World 2.0 involve an application clean-up for end users. For example, search results within App World will simply become better, more relevant, with better weighting and relevance metrics applied -- the search function within the service will use more information to determine how to provide the relevant results. The My World part of App World (where your application activity is stored and managed) now shows you the status of all of your applications -- what's installed, what's pending, what's on your memory card, what you've deleted.

I got a sneak preview of BlackBerry App World 2.0 and it all worked as advertised. The App World itself looks very similar to version 1.1, so there's no startlingly different user interface change to set you back. The biggest change is that there is one fewer top-level option in the main interface (one Top 25 option vs. the Top Free and Top Paid apps). And it was immediately obvious that I could scan across categories of applications (and by this I mean new, free, paid, themes, and recently updated). It seems a minor adjustment, but a positive one for streamlining application search; and it's become standard in many app stores.

The categories of apps (entertainment, games, business, etc) remain the same, and the application search tool is the same except for the result set, which RIM says is enhanced for better performance and more relevant results. Honestly, I didn't see a huge difference when I tested v 1.1 and v 2.0, but an example RIM gave me was that a search for "EA" might have return not just EA games, but anything with those letters . . . now, EA games will likely come up higher in the search results. Still, comparing searches on two separate devices yielded exactly the same results on every single search I performed. Perhaps RIM has already done all of the work on the back end; a company spokesperson said this was being flagged as a bug.

One other cool feature lets developers put QR barcodes in their applications. Today, people can use their BlackBerry devices to scan QR barcodes -- say within BlackBerry Messenger, to get contacts from another BlackBerry user. Now a developer could put a barcode on a campaign for their app, and if a user scans it, they'll be taken right to that application in the store.

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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