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Mobile App Store Battle Pits iTunes Vs. Android Upstarts

App stores are sprouting up like weeds, but increasing competition may actually help developers.

When Apple's iTunes App Store launched in July, 2008, app discoverability wasn't a significant problem for developers. There were only about 500 third-party apps in the App Store.

Today, the situation has changed. There are well over 250,000 apps in the App Store and app discoverability is a serious concern. It's an issue not only for iOS developers but for Android developers and those writing applications for other mobile platforms. How does one get attention for one's app?

And it's only going to get worse as apps, app stores, and platforms proliferate. Where once the App Store was the only game in town, we're headed toward a future with multiple online stores for mobile apps. The Android Market now has over 80,000 apps and will likely surpass 100,000 by the end of the year.

There's BlackBerry App World, the Nokia, Ovi Store, Palm App Catalog, and Windows Marketplace for Mobile. Dell, Intel, Motorola, and Samsung have app stores. The list goes on and on.

Verizon will soon expand its V Cast App Store to include Android apps alongside BlackBerry apps. Amazon is said to be preparing an Android app store of its own.

The store surge reaches beyond mobile. There's the Google Apps Marketplace, for Web applications that work with Google Apps. There's the forthcoming Chrome Web Store. Google TV will probably get a store of its own.

The market will take care of some of these stores. It's unlikely that they'll all thrive. But even so, app distribution appears destined to become more and more complicated.

If this is a problem, then it's also an opportunity. Now that the platforms have given rise to markets, someone needs to streamline the minutia of marketing.

A Forrester study of 25,000 European adults published over the summer revealed that 4% of all mobile users and 15% of smartphone users reported downloading at least one app per month. Yet, it also found that 21% of all European mobile users surveyed viewed apps as an important factor in choosing a mobile handset. Clearly, there's untapped market potential.

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