RIM buys Cellmania in hopes of a better App World

Research in Motion (RIM) has acquired Cellmania, an established app store infrastructure developer, in an apparent attempt to zap some life into its App World 2.0 app store for BlackBerry smartphones. Cellmania may enable RIM to build a better app store than what Apple or Android have to offer, but that doesn’t mean it will beat those rivals. The discrepancy boils down to how you define “better”.

On the one hand, the Apple App Store and Android Market are both far from perfect. To some extent, they are victims of their own success because the more tens of thousands of apps you add to the inventory, the harder it is to offer an efficient and effective means of navigating them and helping app shoppers find what they’re looking for.

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To the extent that RIM can use the skills and intellectual property of Cellmania to build a better mousetrap, it is possible that the BlackBerry App World 2.0 can offer shoppers a better experience, and provide a more effective marketplace for developers to hock their wares. Both BlackBerry smartphone users, and BlackBerry app developers would benefit from a better app store.

That said, “better” in that sense is a relative term. Yes, the App World 2.0 app store might be technically better than the competition with the Cellmania purchase, but that doesn’t always translate to beating the competition. Just look at IBM OS/2, Betamax video tapes, or the Sega Dreamcast. Many technically superior solutions have still faded into trivial obscurity.

The new and improved App World 2.0 faces two connected and significant hurdles, and unfortunately for RIM the combination is self-perpetuating. First is the popularity of the smartphone platform itself, and second is the sheer volume of available apps.

RIM’s BlackBerry is the leading smartphone platform–well ahead of Apple and Android. However, the traditional BlackBerry hardware is yesterday’s technology and RIM has been steadily bleeding market share. RIM recently launched a more iPhone-esque BlackBerry–the Torch 9800–to take a quantum leap into the world of next-generation smartphones with features and functions similar to the iPhone and Android devices. However, the initial reception of the Torch is reportedly tepid, and may pose little threat to those competitors.

The more popular the smartphone platform is, the more incentive exists for developers to create apps for it. The more apps are available for a given platform, the more appealing it is as a smartphone. It is a self-feeding cycle.

BlackBerry App World 2.0 currently has somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 apps. That is obviously far more than any one user needs, but is only ten percent of the variety found in the Google Android Market Place, and only four percent of the volume of apps available in the Apple App Store.

Cellmania will enable RIM to create a better BlackBerry App World that is easier to navigate and offers a better user experience. But, a better BlackBerry App World won’t necessarily drive sales of BlackBerry smartphones, or provide the needed incentive for developers to support the platform.

RIM will likely continue to lose market share to the iPhone and Android platforms, and may find itself in third place sooner rather than later. But, like the BlackBerry Torch, the BlackBerry App World with Cellmania will at least provide organizations that are heavily invested (or shackled) to the BlackBerry culture enough to appease them and slow the bleeding.

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