When Kevin Grandia’s two young daughters discovered how much fun it was to take his BlackBerry and rack up huge phone bills by calling India and South Korea, the Vancouver communications consultant took action.
He downloaded an application from the BlackBerry App World to distract his daughters with.
Now, instead of making new friends around the world, Grandia’s daughters are fixated on Super Baby Go!, a $4.25 educational app depicting bouncing blocks that helps them learn the alphabet. Best of all, the app locks the smartphone’s keys, so no matter which buttons are pushed, no long-distance calls can be made.
Grandia, the new-media director for the Vancouver-based public-relations firm Hoggan and Associates and the managing editor of the climate-change site DeSmogBlog, peruses the App World on his BlackBerry 8800 whenever he’s bored.
“I like to read on the SkyTrain,” Grandia told the Georgia Straight during a phone interview between meetings. “But when I don’t feel like reading anymore, I tweet and Facebook, and when that’s done I turn to Berry apps and find something new.”
Launched in April, the App World offers a selection of free and paid applications that BlackBerry users can download and use on their smartphones. Apps are available in 19 categories, including Games, Productivity, and Utilities.
One of the more useful apps Grandia has downloaded, Lance Armstrong’s $3.18 Livestrong Calorie Counter, helps him calculate his caloric intake. His biggest app regret is the $4.25 Professional Bowlers Association app, which he realized he had no interest in, no matter how boring the commute got.
“I’m in Washington, D.C., right now, and all those damn diagonal streets turn me around, so the one I end up using most often is Google Maps,” Grandia said.
According to Sarah Koivumaki, a criminology student at Simon Fraser University, iPhone apps are sexier and more fun, but BlackBerry apps will be more useful when she graduates.
“The iPhone is a great toy, but every time I use it I worry about the glass breaking or something happening to it. The BlackBerry just seems more professional,” Koivumaki told the Straight, using the iPhone she is hoping to trade in for a BlackBerry. “There will come a point when I graduate when I’ll need things like expense charts.”
The most popular BlackBerry apps remain those that users consider business tools. Most of these—such as Google Maps; Mobipocket Reader, for downloading e-books and converting PDF and Word files to a mobile format; Viigo, a mobile news reader; and WorldMate Live, the most downloaded BlackBerry travel app—are free.
The free version of WorldMate offers a currency converter and allows you to import your flight and hotel itineraries to your BlackBerry calendar. An upgrade costing US$99 adds up-to-the-minute flight status.
Ian McDonald, manager of developer relations for BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, said the ideal apps are the ones that help make your life easier, so not only can BlackBerry users find a restaurant based on their preferences and make reservations, they can use the smartphone’s built-in GPS to get to the location.
“The best applications are the ones that you use every day,” McDonald said by phone from the company’s headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario. “The test of whether or not you deliver the ultimate application is based on that—the usability of it for everyday.”
Joe Pawlikowski, senior editor for BB Geeks—a Web site that reviews BlackBerry models, apps, and service providers—said that despite having some useful apps, the BlackBerry remains far behind the iPhone, with its trendier applications.
“The iPhone has a wider user base; it’s more of a consumer base and covers much more of the market. [The] BlackBerry software and platform isn’t near the level of the iPhone,” he said in a phone interview from New Jersey. “It’s not only easier to develop for the iPhone, but more people are developing for the iPhone than for BlackBerrys.”
According to Pawlikowski, part of the problem is that the BlackBerry’s operating system isn’t robust enough to support as wide a range of applications. But with each new version of the device, the OS is improving, he said.
Research in Motion is hoping to expand its developer base to encourage the creation of more apps beyond the typical business tools like organizers, PDF viewers, word processors, and spreadsheets. For now, Pawlikowski says BlackBerry seems to be having a problem finding a place in the middle between practical business apps and the majority, which are useless.
The most expensive app he’s ever used, a word processor, cost $50—a fee Pawlikowski thought was worth it for a business tool that provided more features than the basic program that comes with the BlackBerry.
Pawlikowski recently analyzed some of the dumbest apps available and came up with a list that includes one that reminds you to brush your teeth and another that makes fart noises.
To Pawlikowski, that last one lies across the line that separates an app that makes sense from one that is pointless. The first app he ever downloaded—and one he continues to use—is SitOrSquat, which helps you find a toilet wherever you, um, go.
“A lot of these apps have a short shelf life, and once a month I try to purge stuff out. There’s always new ones coming,” Pawlikowski said.
But not fast enough to suit him. Pawlikowski, a huge baseball fan, watched with envy this past summer as iPhone users downloaded an application that streams live baseball games.
With baseball playoffs long over, it’s too late for Pawlikowski, but like all optimistic fans, he’s hopeful the BlackBerry will be in the game next season.