RIM can blame its struggles on apps

At our first ever enterprise mobility conference, MobiBiz, one speaker unintentionally highlighted why BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. has been under financial and media fire over the last several months.

While making a point about the need to separate handset penetration from actual usage patterns, IBM Canada’s Alon Kronenberg, a practice lead of mobile apps for the company’s mobile solutions unit, talked about Air Canada’s portfolio of mobile apps.

He said that the airline’s boarding pass app, which lets user acquire their flight ticket, is accessed mostly by BlackBerry users. On the other hand, the much more smart phone-optimized (and native) flight status app, which gives customers the ability to keep tab on flight progress and delays, is used by Android and iPhone users.

Kronenberg didn’t editorialize this point any further, but for me, the different use cases really underscore what RIM has to change to survive. On the small smart phone form factor, user interface and ease-of-use is critical, especially for media-rich applications.

BlackBerry users are gravitating toward an app that isn’t very mobile-specific. Air travelers can easily print out their boarding passes at home or in an airport kiosk. However, keeping tabs on real-time flight information on a visually rich display takes BlackBerry users out of their comfort zone.

Another presenter at MobiBiz presented some statistics on the average number of applications installed on a typical Android, iPhone and BlackBerry user’s phone. RIM users unsurprisingly ranked last in this category, with an average of 10 apps installed per phone.

This isn’t a new story for RIM either. When it recently launched its new BlackBerry OS and the PlayBook tablet, building up the app development community was a top priority. And with each passing month, that goal seems more and more unattainable for the company.

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