Competition is also positive for app stores, Laurs says. "Consumers are becoming more educated about mobile applications, and the net effect is that it's increasing demand," he says. "Even with all the other stores in the market, our growth this year was the highest in five years."
The next few years should prove no less transformative. Money transfer applications, location-based services and mobile search will reign as the top mobile app categories by 2012, according to a recent Gartner forecast. Crediting consumer interest in smartphones, the participation of Internet players in the mobile space and the emergence of app stores and cross-industry services, Gartner expects that the LBS user base alone will grow from 96 million worldwide in 2009 to 526 million in 2012, claiming location-enabled solutions will meet a range of consumer needs spanning from productivity tools to social networking and entertainment. In addition, Gartner predicts browsers will be available on about 80 percent of handsets shipping in 2012, compared with 60 percent of devices in 2009.
"The business is changing," Laurs agrees. "More and more brands are figuring out a mobile strategy and using mobile applications as an extension of their service. It's similar to what the Internet was like 15 years ago. If you're developing a mobile application, you must be able to reach the consumer on any device. We can help."
Tips for Aspiring Mobile App Entrepreneurs
Consumer demand for mobile applications continues to surge. A recent forecast from market research firm Frost & Sullivan projects app store downloads will reach 6.67 billion per year in 2014. More than half a billion iPhone and iPod touch application downloads took place in Q3 2009 alone, Apple's App Store reported. And developers continue to stream into the mobile space hoping to strike it rich--Apple adds there are now more than 125,000 registered developers in its iPhone Developer Program. Nor is the iPhone the only mobile platform generating developer interest: Android application project starts increased 94 percent between last September and October, according to mobile in-application analytics provider Flurry, a leap attributed to Verizon Wireless' launch of Motorola's Android Droid smartphone.
GetJar founder and CEO Ilja Laurs says there's still room for even more aspiring mobile entrepreneurs. "Only a tiny fraction of the subscriber population is heavily into mobile apps right now, but in the next few years, it could grow to the size of the music industry," Laurs says. "If you look at mobile software development, the effort is similar to producing a song. Look at how many musicians the entertainment industry supports--there are a number of highly successful musicians that make millions."
Here's more expert advice on mobile application development
"The key is coming up with a product that consumers want. That may sound intuitive, but we see hundreds of apps come through every week. And while the overall content and execution are getting better, some developers still don't have an idea of what the market is about or what consumers are looking for," says Patrick Mork, GetJar vice president of marketing. "Developers should talk to consumers, carriers and app stores to see what they want. You would be surprised at how many people don't do this. They also need to consider the situation where the app will be used and how to make it better to fit that occasion."
"It's very important that developers be aware of the complexities within the mobile space--there are so many platforms, so many operating systems and so many form factors," says Opera Software chief strategy officer Rolf Assev. "Everyone is looking at the iPhone, but how do you get your message through when you're one of 100,000 applications? You have to be careful."
Tobias Kemper, Nimbuzz vice president of North American operations, says: "Pick which platform you want to concentrate on and understand your distribution channel or else it gets incredibly tough. You can't ignore the iPhone--it's a successful device, superior distribution system. But if you want to speak to anyone outside the U.S., the iPhone isn't going to save the day. The rest of the world is still 40 percent Symbian," the dominant operating system on Nokia devices.
Jason Ankeny is a Chicago-based freelance writer and media critic.
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