BlackBerry's Answer to iPhone App Store is Hardly as Smooth

Store offers more direct route for downloading software, once you can get in

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BlackBerry launched its answer to the Apple iPhone App Store today. Compared to the iPhone version, the BlackBerry App World offers fewer selections, at least initially. And from my experience at least, hardly as smooth a shopping experience.

Still, after getting past its initial rough spots, the store should help pack the BlackBerry smartphones with even more smarts.

When I first signed on, the store offered a feature item: Brain Challenge 2: Stress Management. Not a bad one to start with after a couple of hours of wrestling to get into the store. More on that later.

Brain Challenge was one of 15 featured items. Others include apps from Facebook, Associated Press and Bloomberg news, and Shazam, the popular app for identifying songs.

By the time I got into the store, it was offering 456 applications in 13 categories. That compares to more than 31,000 now available for the iPhone, according to 148apps.com, which tracks the offerings. About 30 percent of the initial BlackBerry choices are free, compared to about 23 percent on the iPhone.

But apps are apparently flowing in quickly to the BlackBerry store. Bloggers who got in earlier reported choices in the range of 380.

Buying is simple enough, as long as you have a PayPal account. Others must first sign up for a PayPal account. That's likely to trip up more users than Apple's use of accounts at its iTunes store, which most iPhone users would already have.

Execs at Research in Motion, BlackBerry's maker, hope carriers will let users pay through their wireless accounts. That would be a welcome addition. Simplicity is the key. BlackBerry owners could already download other software but the store should offer a more direct and easier route.

Unfortunately, I suspect others will run into problems like mine. I tried all sorts of ways to the page for grabbing the app, but could not get the magic download button.  After getting tech support from a RIM spokeswoman, we finally resorted to a hard reboot on the T-Mobile BlackBerry Curve that the company provided for testing. That and changing the browser seemed to do the job.

I had also tried to get to the download link through my desktop computer. The spokeswoman said her understanding was that link wasn't working. But I later tried again, and was finally given an error message than I needed to use Internet Explorer. I did, and the desktop download also worked.

I suspect my frustration stems from the added complexity of the BlackBerry world. RIM is working with many different handhelds, carriers and software versions. Owners of BlackBerry models without a trackball will be disappointed to learn the App World won't work for them.

Apple simply has more control over its environment. But that comes at the cost of fewer choices in handhelds and only one carrier, AT&T.

Many users prefer the wider options available through BlackBerry. And for them, App World is a good addition -- once they can get into it.