Monday, January 04, 2010

The Growth of Mobile Application Marketplaces Are Their Evident Demise

For the last eighteen months I have been the proud owner of the sleek, sexy and hip iPhone. A hands down game changer in the mobile game and a device I came to love and depend on everyday.

I have experienced all of the headaches that come with the AT&T network and dropped calls, but I also experienced the excitement with finding a new application that fit with my life. Applications that made my work more efficient, my media consumption seamless and my social networking always on. And it was always great to find the newest applications that no one had and you could share and showoff to all your friends.

Less than a month ago I made the switch to a an Android powered device. As with many other smartphone owners, My iPhone had become so much more than a phone to me. I was scared to give it up and I didn't know what I would do without all of the apps I had so heavily relied on.

With the Android device, as with any new device, there is a natural learning curve which gives any user some level of aches and pains in the early going. I relied heavily on my new Android powered phone and the aches and pains were gone in less than a week. My real apprehension though was the Android (Application) Market. When it comes to applications there are considerably less Android applications (est 20k) to iPhone applications (est 100k+). And man did I love my iPhone apps.

Well now after not much time with an Android device I could not imagine switching back to my iPhone. But what I have found through the first month or so with my Android device is that the application game needs to change, no matter the device, network or OS.

The current application markets do not look after the users best interest, and even the developers for that matter.

If Apple has 100,000 applications and I had about 80 on my phone that isn't good for me, for Apple or for the developer community.

For me, the user, there has to be more than 80 applications that are useful and entertaining to my needs and likes. There MUST be. For Apple there has to be a better way to get me to interact and download more applications, and the same goes for developers. I should be using a lot of more of the unique and innovative applications developers are building. Unfortunately, I cannot do this due to the sheer size of the application marketplaces and what I have to navigate through to continuously find new apps. Sure blogs and top 10 app lists are great, but they don't know about me and my phone usage and habits.

Of the 80 applications I had on my iPhone, I can't say I used more than 20 on a weekly basis. 20 applications in a sea of 100,000 just doesn't add up. It doesn't make business sense.

And I find the same goes for the Android Market. Even with 1/5th the applications, I am already running into the same problem I had with my iPhone.

In my opinion, there are two different routes to take to fix this growing problem.

The first option, abandon the application stores and build for the web. Computing power in smartphones is getting faster and faster at web browsing and will only continue to do so at greater speeds. Developers build their applications onto the web and instantaneously have access to all users across all phones and carriers. This certainly gives the carriers, OEMs and marketplaces hesitation as it takes away from the uniqueness of their brand and the applications and environment they offer, but is also puts it in the hands of the carriers and underlying operating systems to differentiate themselves where it really counts. Performance, speed, reliability and unique design among other differentiators.

The second option I see is to make the application markets socially smarter. What if when I bought my iPhone or Android device and imported all of my Gmail contacts, Facebook friends, and Twitter followers I could opt in to share the applications I am downloading and in return see my friends applications they had download, with their expressed permission of course.

This then gets interesting when you think about creating a dynamic life cycle in the application marketplace. Perhaps I get a text when specific designated friends download and app. Or perhaps when I download a new social app I can push it out to select individuals in my network. There are a lot of ways to approach the social application marketplace, all of which make it more powerful, more social and easier to navigate the ever expanding mobile marketplaces.

I have no idea in what ways the various mobile application marketplaces will evolve, but evolve they must. And in doing so they must do it in a smarter manner than they are now. One that is first and foremost good for the user, giving them the utmost utility and usability. Right now the growth in application marketplaces seems to be a race to the top, where the sheer number of applications determines the leading marketplace. I hope to see this growth spurn creativity and innovation in how applications are delivered to the user, letting the user leverage the most of the application offerings that fit with each unique individual.

Update: It appears both the iPhone app store and Android Marketplace have social applications that allow you to see what others are doing with their apps (via Mashable).

Appaware on the Android Marketplace allows you to "share online your installations, updates and removals of Android applications. In this way you become aware (App-Aware) of what is hot on the market right now."  It also allows you tweet your "apps' events".

The iPhone offers LivingSocial which allows you to do the following per their website:
-Review and rate you favorite iPhone apps and publish them to your friends
-Find iPhone apps that are popular among your friends
-Easily manage your collection of iPhone apps

There are interesting bridges to the growing problem of app store sizes.  I'm not sure if an app to show you popular or trending apps in the marketplace and share with your friends is the answer, but it is taking us to a better place.

The longer I think about this problem the more I see apps returning to the mobile browser.


  1. Agree and disagree to a point. Agree that apps are overpopulating iTunes/Android Market. When you think of it, quality is hardly ever gained with large quantity. In fact, the blogosphere has even said that iPhone apps are on a race to the bottom as they are spitting out apps by the dozen, most of them lacking in quality. I also agree that app discovery needs to get improved for both iTunes and Android. That was the whole issue Palm was facing as their apps couldn't get pushed out to users. Perhaps iTunes and Android Market can take a page out of Amazon's book and promote apps based on what you already have installed on your phone.

    I disagree with the thought of abandoning apps and building for the web. You hit it right on the money when you said that taking this route would get rid of the uniqueness that certain platforms have. Having platform specific apps builds value to the handset maker so that carriers will find a certain manufacturer appealing and will therefore invest in their handsets. If there were no apps, carriers would just vie to get the phone with the best specs. That would make the handset world very dull. Sometimes you want to opt for phone X because it has a really cool Twitter app, even though it has a slower processor and less RAM than phone Y. The app space in and of itself is fine. App discovery is what needs a major overhaul.

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