Tl;dr – App World is slow, unintuitive and actively impedes users trying to purchase apps and leverage what the platform has to offer. This drives customers away and hurts RIM tremendously.
For starters I’m not going to talk about the selection of applications available. Everyone already knows what the deal is there, so let’s not beat a dead horse. Instead I am going to focus on the “App World” application itself and why it is such an impediment to users.
First and foremost, App World is the slowest application on my device in every way. It takes between 5-7 seconds to get from selecting the app icon to a UI that responds to any kind of user input. I say any kind of user input because the UI is never what I would call responsive. Sluggish at best. A static list of my apps (less than 20) doesn’t even scroll fluidly. Everything about the performance of App World makes me hesitant to download another app for fear that it will be as poorly done. When I find an application I would like to read a description of, it of course takes an unacceptable amount of time to load. I cannot stress this point enough; App World is inexcusably slow in every way.
If you are a little more patient with it this may not bother you, especially if you haven’t spent time in the iOS App Store or the Android Marketplace, but the BlackBerry ID Program will. I won’t say I got no notification of the mandatory enrollment prior to having it pop up when I went to update my Foursquare app (the nicest app for the whole platform by the way) because it is likely they sent out some email warning I didn’t see. I will say they didn’t give me any reason not to be peeved about all of the sudden needing another superfluous set of login credentials though. I held off from updating or downloading any applications for over a month because every time I thought Hey, I’ve got 2 minutes. Let’s download a new app. I was hit in the face with “Register for BB ID!” and I said meh, I’ll do this later. When I finally did get around to registering, what new features were awaiting me? Nothing really. That is unless you count being able to download applications again and not losing every app you’ve bought upon upgrading to a new BlackBerry (Thanks but I’m going to probably get a Nexus S). Here’s the real kicker too. You can’t save your login credentials for BBID. Do they really even want anyone to buy applications?
I attended several presentations RIM made for developers that talked a little about BBID. I think they said the two golden words of mobile dev about 100 times in those talks, carrier billing*. BBID was the path to carrier billing and that developers need only to create a “Super Apps” and money baths would be eminent. Well that is all fine and good but, one of the main reasons this is normally true is that carrier billing means users don’t need to waste time registering or inputing CC/PayPal info when they buy an app. This is completely lost when you instead have to put in the even less familiar BBID credentials every single time.
While the rest of my complaints could be considered nit picking, I think they are important. With the rollout of OS 6 in August came an updated App World where RIM made the poor decision of mixing UI formats throughout the app. The only real new feature of the app, the Top 25 section, employs the new scrolling tabs interface that is featured across most of OS 6. No complaints there, it would be a great UI if the app wasn’t so slow but they neglected to bring the rest of the app up to date. Instead you have 4 different basic UIs depending on what part of the app you are in. This is ludicrous. There is absolutely no flow to the app and it comes off as a jumbled mess. After using the app for 2 years now I am still unsure of how to navigate it. UX is of vital importance and you cannot underestimate the ease at which user will be lost and confused by your app’s layout. I am not a designer but I know better than to do what they did with App World. Not to add injury to insult, but on the Storm series devices, App World does not even correctly implement the user input controls. They neglect to correctly differentiate between a touch and a click (arguably the only interesting feature the Storm Series had going for it and one that I genuinely like).
My last point has more to do with the platform than App World itself but it certainly factors in. Downloading or updating an application requires a full reboot. A full reboot can take upwards of 5 minutes. That doesn’t seem so bad at first, but when you consider the fact that I only want to spend a total of 5 minutes using most applications I download, this is a major sticking point. That platform issue aside, App World factors in because it is painfully difficult to find the “Full reboot” option if you decide not to do so immediately after installing the app. You can’t find it within the app and have to dig through multiple menus and submenus to find it anywhere on the phone. It would make more sense to have added a “Complete Installation” option in the app menu (and the device home menu).
I feel like RIM is disconnected from how their users interact with their devices. We hate things that are slow, confusing and demanding login credentials. Rather than simply delivering the slightly inferior product we have come to expect, App World is actively alienating users. It serves as a terrible example of what the RIM app store has to offer and is a serious factor in why I will not purchase another BlackBerry. It epitomizes much of what is wrong with RIM OS. The app store experience should be fluid, reliable and as intuitive as anything on the device. It is the key to unlocking the potential of the platform and, by neglecting it, RIM is pushing users that interact heavily with their devices away.
Priceless: While writing this article I had my BB open to App World. I look up from writing a paragraph and what do I see but RIMs version of the Blue Screen of Death. “App Error 523” – my only option, “Reset”, which did nothing and instead required the ever common battery pull.
Note: I own a BlackBerry 9530 Storm and have worked with most BlackBerry models ranging from the 8100 series up to 9800. I also do development work on the Android and J2ME platforms. This post pertains to all devices that are on OS v5 and v6. In my experience, the BB 9800 Torch and the BB 9700 Bold have a slightly better App World experience but still fall well below what I would call highly usable.
*Carrier billing is being able to charge the users phone bill directly through the carrier,. This drastically increases purchase rates for applications and provides a better user experience.