The Promise of BlackBerry Super Apps

By  Jeff Goldman — July 23, 2010

At February's Mobile World Congress 2010 in Barcelona, Research In Motion co-CEO Mike Lazaridis introduced the concept of the Super App, a class of BlackBerry applications designed to offer a unique user experience by running in the background as needed, integrating with native apps, providing real-time alerting and notifications, incorporating social networking, and/or providing location-specific functionality.

Among the applications that RIM has identified as Super Apps in the time since Lazaridis' announcement are WeatherBug, which is constantly updated with current temperature and weather conditions; foursquare, which provides information appropriate to the user's location; Navita Translator, which integrates tightly with web, email and text messaging on the BlackBerry; and buzzd, which incorporates social networking functionality.

Chris Hazelton, research director at The 451 Group, also points to the WorldMate travel app as a good example of the kind of tight integration that's key to Super Apps. "If I have a flight put into my calendar and I want to know the status of the flight, I click on a link, and it doesn't go to a web page -- it goes to this Super App and tells me the status of the flight," he says.

As people increasingly multitask on smartphones, Hazelton says, integration between apps becomes crucial. "So you're checking email, you're checking IM on the device, you're checking your schedule... and then you also have these Super Apps, which are delivering custom data that's relevant to you -- and it's integrated with all of that information," he says.

Analysys Mason principal analyst Steve Hilton says that kind of integration can also help to simplify the user experience. "One of the things that we often talk about is how simple an app is, and the simplicity of the app often has to deal with not only the user interface but its connections to other apps... if it's not connected, you can spend an awful lot of time copying pieces of data from one app into another," he says.

Still, as Yankee Group research director Sheryl Kingstone points out, the majority of developers have been surprisingly slow to take advantage of this opportunity. "Now we have this platform, now RIM is saying...  'This is what it needs to be -- developers, let's collaborate and go build it,' but now it's July, and we haven't seen anything that fantastic," she says.

While most Super Apps so far have been consumer-focused, Kingstone says enterprise apps really should be a perfect fit for this kind of offering -- but they also, inevitably, present some unique challenges. "It's harder to do than you might realize, because each business has their own processes," she says.

As a result, Kingstone says, while companies like Sage are actively working on apps like these, it's a slow process. "SalesLogix is stepping up to the plate and really building applications that are mobile, that bring in event notification, that are much more contextual, that bring in the social web -- but it takes time," she says.

And that's a key difference between enterprise and consumer solutions. "Apple can make a platform announcement, and four days from now we'll have 100,000 consumer apps," Kingstone says. "But if you think about it, I've got my weather app, I've got BBC News, I've got some great stuff, but it's a little mini app -- it's not an enterprise-class app."

In the meantime, Kingstone says, don't hold your breath for those enterprise solutions. "We're talking 2011, easily, to really have these fundamentals -- the fundamental pillars of what BlackBerry's trying to push to the end users," she says.

But it's not RIM, Kingstone says, that's responsible for the slowdown. "It's RIM's customers that haven't done much with it in the enterprise beyond email -- and it's the developer market," Kingstone says. "So they're really pushing the developer market -- they're doing webinars, they're getting it out there, they're incenting people to come up with the next killer app."

To that end, the BlackBerry Partners Fund's third annual BlackBerry Developer Challenge is offering more than $1.5 million of prizes to Super App developers. With a submission deadline of September 6, 2010, it's reasonable to assume that the coming months will see several new Super Apps, in a wide variety of categories, arriving at BlackBerry App World -- even if the more fully integrated enterprise apps may be slow in coming.

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