RIM has launched its BlackBerry AppWorld application download store in the UK, US and Canada. From today, BlackBerry handset owners can download both free and paid-for applications to customise their smartphones.

Around 1,000 applications will be available for download by the end of this week, with many more waiting in the wings. The AppWorld store is similar in concept to the iPhone App Store that works with iTunes and has been a huge success for Apple.

At a one-on-one demonstration with RIM in London today, PC Advisor was shown the BlackBerry AppWorld download service on BlackBerry Bold and BlackBerry Curve handsets. Described by RIM as an "on-device portal", the service will work on any BlackBerry handset that uses 4.2 software or newer. RIM says that this applies to any BlackBerry handset that has a pearl navigation ball, but not scrollwheel-style models. It will also work with touchscreen BlackBerry handsets, such as the Storm.

Devices dating back as far as the October 2006 launch of the original BlackBerry Pearl handset are able to use the BlackBerry AppWorld by downloading it from blackberry.com/appworld.

Developers set the price for their applications, which can be initiated direct from the device and typically only 1MB or 2MB. Applications are stored on the handset's internal memory and can be managed via a dedicated MyWorld menu on the BlackBerry. Here, users can get an overview of installed applications, reinstall or uninstall them and check on how much available memory they have.

Synopses about each download offered can be viewed by clicking on the application name, while users are also encouraged to review items they use. RIM also provides a Top 25 applications list that is updated on a daily basis. The list is determined by how many times the application is downloaded and user ratings.

RIM has set up AppWorld such that users are only offered applications that are available to and relevant to their home country. For example, UK users would not be offered the Pandora music service, as it works only in North America.

Asked whether it was possible to skew these ratings by getting lots of people to download and favourably review the same application, RIM said that its policy is to allow users to say what they like about an application as long as the comment is pertinent and not profane.

While RIM hasn't said how many of the applications on offer are free versus the proportion are paid for, our demonstration of the service this morning showed a good selection of freeware and trialware as well as paid-for applications. For example, the Telmap satnav mapping service was listed as free, with an explanation that it was free to try for the first 14 days. Other applications, such as MySpace, however, were free to download and keep.

Prices are displayed on the device in the handset owner's local territory and are automatically translated from US $ (if that's where the developer originates from).

Payment for BlackBerry AppWorld downloads is managed by PayPal. RIM says it's possible that additional micro payment systems will be offered at a later stage.

While the UK, US and Canada are the launch territories for the service, many other countries will also get AppWorld - timeframes for specific country rollouts have yet to be determined.