Research In Motion Ltd. has turned to a long-time Canadian collaborator to develop dozens of exclusive applications for the BlackBerry PlayBook in a bid to substantially boost the tablet's appeal.
Toronto-based Polar Mobile, whose clients include Time Inc. and CBS Sports, has signed a deal with RIM to design "at least" 100 apps this year.
While RIM is trying to catch up with app-heavy competitors Apple Inc. and Google Inc., for Polar Mobile the deal is part of a strategy to build on its expertise in smart-phone applications by expanding into tablet apps.
Some of the PlayBook apps will feature Polar's current clients - it mostly designs smart-phone apps for publishers and other content producers, such as Bloomberg. It hopes to convince those existing smart-phone clients to let it develop their tablet apps as well.
Polar has not said which of its customers it expects to order tablet apps, but the first Polar-produced PlayBook apps should launch this summer. The developer hopes to entice publishers by pitching a three-for-one deal that would include similar apps for Apple's iPad and tablets powered by Google's Android operating system. That means content producers that order a tablet app will get one that works on all three major systems.
The deal is also important for RIM, which is focusing much of its energy on quickly boosting the number of applications that can run on the PlayBook, scheduled to launch April 19. RIM lags behind its two main competitors in its number of tablet apps, although it recently redesigned its system to allow PlayBook users to run some Android apps.
However, RIM appears committed to the same approach it took with smart-phone apps, arguing that BlackBerry "super apps" such as BlackBerry Messenger provide a richer user experience by utilizing the mobile device's capabilities, such as push notification and the inbox.
"The biggest thing for us is apps that take advantage of the underlying platform," said Tyler Lessard, RIM's vice-president of global alliances and developer relations.
Mr. Lessard said RIM is looking to sign similar deals with other app developers. In addition, the company has tried to streamline its app-development process, which some programmers have criticized as convoluted. Recently, RIM purchased tech startup TinyHippos, which specializes in software that lets developers more easily test their apps.
RIM has had a long-standing relationship with Polar - the developer has built more than 180 apps for BlackBerry smart phones.
In all, Polar has built some 500 smart-phone apps for more than 200 publishers, including The Globe and Mail. Recently, Microsoft approached the company to build apps for its Windows smart phones.
Now Polar hopes it can quickly establish a presence in the tablet market.
"Tablets represent a massive opportunity for our customers to increase reach, drive engagement and create a new revenue stream," said Kunal Gupta, Polar's CEO. "We are excited to extend our platform to the PlayBook and believe it will be a key content-consumption device that publishers need to be on."