We BlackBerry owners who have iPhone envy know that there's never a worse time to be sitting next to an iPhone user than in a waiting room.
You're sitting there, choosing between rereading e-mail on your BlackBerry or flipping through a magazine (yawn). Meanwhile, the guy next to you is playing his iPhone like a flute, sending pictures to strangers in the waiting room and figuring out just what hellacious music they're listening to with his Shazam app. Makes you wonder: Why can't your BlackBerry do that?
It's all about the apps.
Sure, Apple is gaining market share. And sure, more consumers are buying iPhones than BlackBerrys these days. But there are still a lot more Research in Motion smartphones out there than Apple ones, and the BlackBerry isn't just for businesspeople anymore.
What makes the BlackBerry most vulnerable is its lack of cool applications. Apple's App Store is jam-packed with 15,000 of them; iPhone and iPod Touch users have downloaded more than half a billion apps. There's a Google Android App Store, and the T-Mobile G1 phone that runs Android comes preloaded with a nifty anagram app, perfect for honing your Scrabble skills.
What's RIM got to offer? I asked the company where BlackBerry users might be able to find some free or cheap iPhone-like apps these days. Its reps sent me to two Web sites, Built for BlackBerry and BlackBerry Solutions Catalog. The former, which seems to have more choices, showcases free favorites such as Facebook, MySpace and Flickr apps for the Blackberry.
But the games category was lacking: Wheel of Fortune, Magic 8 Ball and Guitar Hero cost $6.99 and up. The only thing I could find for free was a trial version of UNO that ran out after a few weeks. There was definitely no cool free Blackberry app like Ocarina that lets you play "Joy to the World" while blowing into your phone.
Tyler Lessard, director of alliances at RIM, defended the company by saying that the amount of apps available for BlackBerry is growing. And apps launched at the Consumer Electronics Show, such as the Slacker mobile music service, SlingPlayer Mobile and Unify4Life AV/Shadow, have proved popular.
"There are thousands of applications available for the BlackBerry platform, and some of the most successful ones are free," he wrote in an e-mail. MySpace for BlackBerry, he said, had more than a million downloads in its first week. RIM soon plans to debut a storefront where users can see all the Blackberry apps in one place, he said.
But in terms of new apps, RIM probably won't be able to match Apple ... for a while, said Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester Research. That's because developers are drawn to Apple and its large community of people hungry for new apps. RIM still has a ways to go to match Apple's developer experience, he said; it's relatively easy for developers to make iPhone apps, and Apple turns them around quickly. (We'd be remiss in not noting that Apple does sometimes yank apps from the store without explanation.)
"Even though RIM has been really growing very impressively with reaching out into the consumer market," he said, "developers don't have the same sense there are real consumers interested in having games."
Golvin said that's not going to hurt RIM, even in these days of slowing phone sales, because people generally don't buy phones based on what apps they offer, but rather based on price, carrier and reviews. But will that change as more of us get stuck in waiting rooms next to iPhone users?
What app would you like to see on your Blackberry? And could having it cure your iPhone envy once and for all?