100,000 software kits downloaded | Apple hopes new applications will boost appeal and nab customers from BlackBerry.

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Apple, striving to lure buyers away from the BlackBerry e-mail device, said more than 100,000 software kits have been downloaded since last week by outside developers interested in writing programs for the iPhone.

Apple released the development kit March 6 and Wednesday set up a preview of an online store to promote programs for the iPhone, which combines an e-mail-equipped handset with the iPod media player. Electronic Arts is among those already at work on applications, Apple said Wednesday.

Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs, who plans to sell 10 million iPhones this year, opened the handset to developers to help broaden the device’s appeal with features such as games and business applications. Apple is embellishing the phone to compete with Research In Motion, whose BlackBerry dominates the U.S. market for e-mail handsets, with a 41 percent share.

“It’s an impressive number of folks who are interested in developing for the iPhone — I think 100,000 is huge,” said Rob Enderle, president of the San Jose, California-based research firm Enderle Group. “The iPhone is very popular and you would figure that it would pull a large number of people who want to make money writing programs for it.”

Last week, venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers announced plans to start a $100 million fund to back companies that develop iPhone applications.

Jobs, who began selling the device in June in the U.S., had sold 4 million iPhones as of Jan. 15. That gave Apple second place in the U.S. market for so-called smart phones, according to research firm Canalys.

Apple began selling the iPhone in the U.K., France and Germany in November, and plans to offer the device in new markets in Europe and Asia this year.

The kit gives developers the code, documentation and software needed to run and test programs to ensure they work with the iPhone. Jobs said last week that Apple will be the exclusive distributor through an online “App Store,” where users can buy applications wirelessly.

Apple will handle the credit-card transactions and then pay developers their sales on a monthly basis, he said, and take a 30 percent cut of each sale. The company doesn’t expect to make money on the programs; instead, the fees may help cover some of the cost of running the store, he said.

The iPhone runs on the same operating system software as the Mac. More than 750,000 developers write programs for that computer.

Jobs said he expects iPhone programs to reach users by midyear. Apple will release a software update for the handset in June that will include a link to the App Store. The update also will add corporate e-mail features, including support for Microsoft’s Exchange.

Developers can also use the software tools to write programs for the iPod Touch, a version of the media player that supports wireless fidelity communication and features the same touch-screen display as the iPhone.