DIALLING A RECOVERY: Research in Motion (RIM)  reported a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss this week, with the struggling BlackBerry maker managing to increase its cash pile in the run-up to the launch of its make-or-break line of next- generation devices. PICTURE: REUTERS

BLACKBERRY maker Research in Motion (RIM) has invested in a new apps laboratory in Cape Town, a move that will contribute to the development of home-grown apps. Local apps make up only a fraction of the downloads from its app store.

By September, more than 13-million apps were downloaded by South African customers, said Alexandra Zagury, RIM MD for South and Southern Africa.

But there were only about 194 local developers, who had submitted about 1,300 apps to the BlackBerry App World.

Situated inside the Bandwidth Barn, an information and communications technology incubator owned by the Cape IT Initiative, the new lab is equipped with computers, internet access, a full range of BlackBerry smartphones to test the apps and a BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

It follows the launch of a similar lab at the University of Pretoria earlier this year.

The labs also provide local developers — including students, start-ups, and entrepreneurs — with access to marketing, sales and training resources to help them to expand their ideas and business opportunities.

Blessing Mahlalela, a developer and student at the University of Pretoria, said the lab had eliminated the cost his start-up company would otherwise have incurred. “(It is) providing resources such as the latest BlackBerry devices for testing and high performance development machines.”

Arthur Goldstuck, MD of technology research consultancy World Wide Worx, said the new lab was a “very powerful positioning statement by BlackBerry that it has a strong commitment to this market.

It also helps to win the trust and engagement of the developer community.”

Global BlackBerry shipments are flagging, according to the latest numbers by worldwide ICT researchers Canalys.

In the year to the end of the second quarter, its smartphone shipments declined 32%, while rival smartphones running on the Android and iOS platforms grew 110% and 28% respectively.

But recent research by World Wide Worx found the ‘Berry was thriving locally, with market share rising from 4% to 18% over the 18 months to August.

“South Africa and the continent at large are important and a high-growth market for RIM,” said Ms Zagury. “We believe the BlackBerry apps labs will allow us to serve the developer community in the region well, and provide the applications our customers want.”

New developers are sure to make money from their apps, given RIM’s plans to expand carrier billing in South Africa, where a credit card was previously needed to purchase an app.

Ms Zagury said Vodacom was the first to launch this service in June, which allows users to charge their app purchases to their contract or prepaid accounts.

“The new billing service enables Vodacom customers to buy digital goods with a seamless service experience,” said Ms Zagury. “There’s no pre-registration, no user names or passwords, or any other payment information required. Carriers have reported users have installed 100% more apps — including 70% more paid-for apps — since turning on carrier billing.”

* This article was first published in Sunday Times: Money & Careers