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7/16/2009
05:00 PM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
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What App Stores Benefit Smartphones Best?

As Apple hits its one trillionth app download sometime today before lunch (or some other ridiculously high number that starts to lose meaning at some point) and other app stores are on the way from a number of other players, it strikes me that Apple has the right formula, but not because it is Apple or the iPhone, but because it is drop dead simple to understand for the consumer.

As Apple hits its one trillionth app download sometime today before lunch (or some other ridiculously high number that starts to lose meaning at some point) and other app stores are on the way from a number of other players, it strikes me that Apple has the right formula, but not because it is Apple or the iPhone, but because it is drop dead simple to understand for the consumer.There are several different models of application delivery to the consumer. I consider Apple's a platform to consumer model. Samsung has an application store too, and this would be the manufacturer to consumer model. Then there are the carrier to consumer models where AT&T, Verizon or other carriers are selling to their existing customers. There is the shopping mall to consumer model, which would be like Handango which has apps from hundreds of developers for hundreds of devices. Handmark seems to have its own little model, so I'll call it the Handmark model. They look like a software aggregator, very selectively picking out apps to sell from various developers for multiple platforms. For example, they sell ListPro from Ilium Software but not eWallet, which I'd argue is the more popular app of the two.

There may be other models, but this enough for my point. Models like Handmark or the shopping mall model simply don't work too well. Handango has been around for a long time but the consumer has to go find it. It generally isn't preinstalled as an icon or bookmark on the device. Once you do get there, you might not be able to buy what you want right then. I've run into issues where the device had to be tethered to a PC for installation which defeats the point of an app store for a phone. These models must be seriously on top of all phones they support too. They ask you to identify your device and if your's isn't listed, you may be inclined to just move on rather than try a similar device with the same operating system on it.

I'll lump carrier and manufacturer models in the same boat. Companies like Samsung and Verizon both must keep up with a number of different operating systems. Both companies also sell phones that aren't even supported by their application stores, which just frustrates owners of those devices. The number of apps also tends to be limited as smaller developers aren't as likely to deal with trying to sell their app through those services.

The platform model is where it is at. RIM has it for the Blackberry, Apple for the iPhone OS, Palm for WebOS and Microsoft is getting closer to launching it for Windows Mobile. MS has finally opened up their store to all WinMo 6.x and higher devices, a smart move.

These stores come preinstalled on new devices so it is easy to access. The store keep knows their platform inside and out and often has relationships with developers through SDK distributions and tech previews of upcoming OS releases.

I am not saying non-platform makers shouldn't try with their own app store. It is a free market after all. Sometimes though, market conditions and facts so favor a few or even a single solution that to do anything else doesn't make much sense.

For years, Microsoft favored everything but the platform model, preferring to let their partners handle application sales. For nearly a decade, that never had much success. Then Apple came in determined to control the "iPhone Experience" and has done a superb job. I don't know if Microsoft, or Google, Palm and RIM for that matter, can replicate Apple's App Store success, but their having embraced the platform model gives them the greatest chance of success and will give the consumer the most enjoyable and productive experience when shopping for apps for their phone.

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