BlackBerry, whose smartphones have for long been used by the professional class, is adding a dash of spice to attract younger users. Its latest phones will feature applications developed by 57 companies housed withinKochi’s Startup Village, an incubation centre backed by the Kerala government.
Students employed by these companies have developed nearly 150 apps on the BlackBerry platform, ranging from algorithms for guessing your mood to those that help start and accelerate a car.
These apps reflect an image makeover for the device maker, Research in Motion (RIM) – the maker of BlackBerry phones – which is trying to eat into the market share of larger rivals Apple and Samsung. BlackBerry was until recently offering users about 1,05,000 apps, compared with 7,00,000 for Android phones and 7,75,000 for Apple.
To bridge this gap, RIM turned to sourcing innovation from new locations and chose Kerala as its first destination in Asia-Pacific last year.
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“We found the Kerala Start-up Village to be excellent in garnering college support, and providing land, legal and financial assistance to student entrepreneurs,” said Annie Mathew, director alliances and business development at RIM India.
RIM provides free toolkits, BB 10 devices and developer support to students developing apps. Nearly a tenth of the 4,00,000 developers working on the BlackBerry platform now are from India.
Industry experts believe that by creating a robust app ecosystem RIM expects to shore up its declining share in the global smartphone market which fell to 5% last year from 10% in 2010.
“The reason RIM lost the race to Apple and Samsung was because it had no exciting hardware or platform for developers,” said Kunal Bajaj, director at mobile venture One97 Communications and a BlackBerry user. “With BB 10, RIM aims to get some of that buzz back.”
RIM will also pay developers $10,000 (Rs 5.4 lakh) for every app successfully ported on the BB 10 platform. The company expects to have 70,000 apps globally with its new BB 10 devices being launched this week.
Arjun R Pillai, 24, who quit Infosys last year to team up with his college mates and launch Profoundis, has developed about 12 apps for the BlackBerry platform.
His company’s apps ‘Sense’ and ‘Emotion’ use search algorithms to analyse the mood of a blog or predict whether a movie can be a hit or flop. His other apps ‘Yoga’ and ‘Cook Book’ are also being ported to the new platform.
“The only challenge behind developing an app for BlackBerry was that the exposure was low compared to an Android. Hopefully, it will get resolved now,” says Pillai. Mathew of RIM believes having fewer apps on BlackBerry World in contrast to rival platforms, is not a disadvantage. “We just focus on the quality of apps, never the quantity. After all, how many poker games do you need?”