"BlackBerry has a thriving ecosystem with BlackBerry 10." That's what CEO Thorsten Heins said this May at a developer conference before revealing that users had a choice of 120,000 apps from its still-young app market, BlackBerry World. The problem is that over a third of those apps come from a single developer. Yes, a Hong Kong-based company called S4BB has published just under 47,000 apps to BlackBerry World since launch. That's not a good sign of a "thriving ecosystem."
"BlackBerry has a thriving ecosystem with BlackBerry 10."
It's hard to expect much out of apps made at volume in such little time. Scanning the list, it looks like a few dozen apps are useful (like one that makes the camera shutter silent), and some have solid reviews. But many are repackaged RSS feeds for content like updates from the White House, while others are near-identical city guide apps for locations all around the world. Wallpapers, ebooks, and videos are also in the list as separate apps. Thankfully they don't appear to be malicious, but it's not clear if the content that feeds these apps has been legally obtained. Nevertheless, such a prolific developer in no way improves the experience for BlackBerry owners. By flooding the market, high-quality and legitimate apps can be hard to find.
When asked for comment, BlackBerry sent the following statement to The Verge:
Developers in all app stores employ a number of different monetization tactics. BlackBerry World is an open market for developers and we let market forces dictate the success or failure of these tactics. Discoverability in overcrowded stores continues to be an issue affecting all developers. This is why we have worked hand in hand with developers on the Built for BlackBerry program to help showcase apps and games that exemplify the power of BlackBerry 10.
This vague statement certainly doesn't seem to say much, but it's actually quite revealing. The company confirms that it knows that developers like S4BB are spamming BlackBerry World, but it also has no plans to do anything about it. In fact, BlackBerry acknowledges the developer's technique of flooding the marketplace with low-quality apps as a legitimate "monetization tactic," and it suggests customers simply don't purchase such apps. At the same time, BlackBerry says it's working to surface the best apps from the noise.
"BlackBerry World is an open market for developers" — and spammy apps
So what's going on? BlackBerry has succumbed to the desire to promote that it has over 100,000 apps. It terms of sheer size, BlackBerry World already pales in comparison to Apple's App Store and Google Play, both of which are nearing one million apps. Windows Phone has over 160,000 apps. Without spammy developers like S4BB, BlackBerry World would look even worse in the numbers game.
But the real problem is that this drive for more and more apps is doing little to nothing to bring quality apps to BlackBerry 10. We've said before that the size of a platform means almost nothing about the health of that ecosystem. BlackBerry 10 doesn't have Instagram. Or Netflix, Hulu, Vine, HBO Go, WatchESPN, or any number of incredibly important apps that customers want. By thinking it can hide behind a big number like 120,000 and fool customers into thinking they'll get the apps they want when they buy a BlackBerry 10 device, the company is sacrificing a good experience for an ad strategy.
Microsoft took a different approach to a similar problem
If this sounds familiar, it's because it is. Indeed, nearly all new phone ecosystems face the issue of drawing in developers (and good apps) in order to make their platforms appealing to consumers. Most recently Microsoft grappled with the same issues soon after Windows Phone launched: thousands of low-quality apps saturated the market with knock-off versions of apps that had yet to release an app for the operating system. After complaints, Microsoft ultimately limited developers to 10 app submissions per day and worked to removed "bulk apps." The policy hasn't guaranteed that Windows Phone apps will be amazing, but Microsoft's decision has protected customers from bad apps.
BlackBerry could take similar action, but the fact that it hasn't speaks volumes. Instead, its attempts to draw in developers — including a $10,000 bounty per "certified" app and no submissions fees — has given birth to an unhealthy app store with big numbers but little substance. And if the company's statement is anything to go by, it has no intention of changing course.