Apple just announced free cloud storage and a slew of cool new features for iOS 5. Google announced a tap and pay system for Android phones earlier this week. And what has RIM, the third major smartphone player, done for us lately?
Well, there's BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). The company has focused its commercials, display advertising and legal efforts on the feature that provides limitless instant chat between its customers.
This feature lost some of its residual glitz, however, after group messaging apps emerged, enabling BBM-like capabilities between different platforms. When Apple announced that it would be including iMessage - BBM for Apple products, essentially - in its iOS 5, any residual glitz BBM may have retained was washed away.
The fact that BBM has some competition only adds to RIM's woes. According to data from Nielsen, the BlackBerry OS market share has been in steady decline compared to iOS and Android since June 2010, before the first notable group messaging app launched (GroupMe in August 2010).
How to explain BlackBerry's decline? Part of it has to do with how far behind the OS is falling in the app game. About a year ago, Apple had up to 20 times the number of app downloads as RIM. At that point, RIM still had more market share than either Apple or Android.
BlackBerry apps are typically the last version that companies like Shazam, Instapaper or Pandora develop. They're often also more expensive than their counterparts on other platforms. If you're a BlackBerry owner, you get to pay $4.99 to play Angry Farm while your friends are playing Angry Birds for $0.99 on iOS and Android. When everyone else is raving about their free Netflix app that streams movies to their phones, you have to settle for Movela Netflix Queue Manager, which costs $4.99 and doesn't stream anything.
Most app developers consider coding for BlackBerry OS to be a pain. '[With] Blackberry, the API changes a lot between the major versions [of the OS]â€¦The code needs to optimized for each version,' explains Narayan Babu, the CEO and CTO of app developer Dextera. 'Another major problem with Blackberry is that the devices have very diverse specs, right from the form factor and screen resolution, to components like WIFI, GPS and the touchscreen.'
Even though RIM CEO Jim Balsillie claimed BlackBerry's relatively skeletal app selection was a strategy last November ('You don't need an app for the web'), it seems to be becoming a problem. Apps may once have been viewed as tricks for showing off a new smartphone. Now they are so indispensable that Apple is starting to borrow their best features for iOS5. In other words, there's a feedback loop. More apps makes the OS itself stronger.
Back when other phones lacked security, a solid calendar and reliable email capabilities, RIM's phones thrived based on solid basic features. Now, as other smartphones have nearly matched RIM's security and practical business functions, that foothold may be weakening. A 2010 survey found that although RIM still provides the majority of corporate cell phones, Apple OS and Android are fast gaining market share in the enterprise space.
In short, Blackberry phones need something - other than solid basic functions - worth talking about. RIM announced on Tuesday that it had acquired social gaming company Scoreloop, a departure from its calendar- and communication-enhancing previous acquisitions. That's a start.
Author: Sarah Kessler for Mashable / Posted: 08-06-2011