RIM opens BlackBerry App World

Research in Motion Wednesday launched its online applications catalog, dubbed App World, where BlackBerry developers can showcase their software and BlackBerry users can pay online and download them.

RIM expects about 1,000 applications to be available this week, with more in the future. App World is initially available for BlackBerry users in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom. Users have to first download a smartphone application to connect to the App World Web site, via cellular or Wi-Fi links.

One early review by Om Malik concluded App World 1.0 is a “competent and useful answer to the iTunes App Store.”

The unexpected success of Apple’s iTunes-related App Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch has spurred rivals to match the offering, creating a clearinghouse for mobile users to find, buy and download applications directly to their handheld devices. Besides RIM, both Microsoft and Nokia have recently announced their plans to create similar online catalogs. One issue facing the new arrivals but not Apple: having to support multiple device models and OS versions.

The sites are very much a work in progress. App Store’s success and growth has created its own problems: with some 25,000 applications, there are still limited tools for finding applications, comparing them, and getting user-created rankings and feedback about them. Apple has been criticized for having what some see as obscure or arbitrary procedures and standards for reviewing and approving new applications.

App Store has spawned a series of other sites that “scrape” its content and represent it to users.

The RIM site will offer a “carousel” on the home page, featuring a rotating series of feature applications, along with a listing of “top downloads,” user reviews and recommendations, and key word searching.

Users also get an online folder called “My World,” which can be used to keep track of paid applications downloaded by the user. The storage space can be used to uninstall and re-install applications or transfer them to new BlackBerry models.

App World offers both free and paid applications (currently only those with a one-time fee) for smartphones with version 4.2.0 or higher of the BlackBerry operating system. Applications will be for the Bold, Storm, Pearl (including Pearl Flip), Curve 8300 and 8900 series, and 8800 series devices. Older trackwheel models are not supported. Any application that can be packaged as a compiled Java .COD file (a RIM file format) can be deployed on App World.

— BlackBerry App World software will sell for $2.99 and up, though free apps will also be available

— A PayPal account is required to purchase apps from BlackBerry App World, though free software can be downloaded without PayPal.

— The BlackBerry App World home screen offers 1) Featured Apps; 2) a Categories icon that lets you navigate apps by “genre” i.e., Games or Music and Video; 3) a Top Downloads link for quick access to the most popular apps; 4) a dedicated Search function; and 5) a My World icon, which lets you access your account information and view/install/uninstall your App World software.

— App World users can scroll left and right on the home screen to view different Featured Apps.

— The Search bar on specific Categories pages helps find exactly what you seek.

— After finding an application of interest, you can click its name to display additional details, such as the app maker, price, ratings and screen shots.

— Once you locate an app, you can purchase it via PayPal with just a few clicks: one click for the Download button, another for the PayPal login screen–you must also enter your account information–and you’re good to go.

— You can write application reviews directly from the My World screen on your device.

— If you purchase a new handset, any and all apps you bought from App World can be transferred to the new device free of charge to as many as three devices per year.

— Any and all apps you purchase can be deleted from your device and reinstalled as many times as you please, so App World also works as a virtual storage unit for software you download of purchase through the store.

The site will support Web-based content services for BlackBerry smartphones, and is designed to support license keys.

Developers have to go through an online submission process, and pay a $200 fee, which is refunded if RIM rejects the application. Applications are reviewed “for content suitability” and RIM says it will perform technical testing””to ensure the application meets the BlackBerry App World application guidelines.”