The Rise and Rise of the Mobile App Store

This week Amazon launched their Android Appstore, a high-profile alternative to the Android Market. But why did they bother? What’s the point in opening another store selling the same things? The answer is simple, it’ll make a big, fat pile of cash. Recent research has suggested application store downloads will grow by 117% this year, with revenue jumping 190% over 2010 too.

With growth like that expected, it’s no wonder Amazon – an established online retailer with plenty of credit card-equipped accounts – wanted to get involved. But how big a piece of the pie can they expect?  We’re going to take a look at some of the many other application stores out there and the numbers they produce, as well as examining what the future has in store.

The Application Store Masters

Our first collection of stores won’t contain many surprises, as they’re mostly official, manufacturer supported examples.  However, this is where you’ll see some of the biggest numbers…

 

Apple App Store

The store that popularised the current application store business model, Apple’s App Store is the one all others are chasing in terms of quality, quantity and revenue. Apple run a tight ship too, as not only do developers have to pay for the right to submit apps, but they’re subject to a strict acceptance procedure once they have.

 

Launch Date: July 2008.

Number of Apps: 350,000+

Download Stats: Estimated between 10 million and 30 million per day.

Devices Supported: Apple iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

Positives: Strict rules regarding content ensures a ‘safe’ environment, general quality of apps is high, good device compatibility, big name game developers and low prices.

Negatives: Controlled environment prohibits certain genres of ‘entertainment’, no OTA syncing and fewer free apps than other stores.

 

Android Market

Apple’s closest rival? Almost certainly, and the antithesis of almost everything about the App Store too. Applications submitted to the Market undergo minimal checking, plus developers have more freedom. Also, whereas it still trails the App Store in total apps available, recent figures suggest its growth rate is higher.

 

Launch Date: October 2008.

Number of Apps: 250,000+

Downloads Stats: Estimated at more than 3.5 billion total downloads.

Devices Supported: Anything running Google Android OS.

Positives: Lots of choice, higher amount of ‘free’ apps over ‘paid’ apps, relative freedom-of-choice and OTA syncing.

Negatives: With less control comes greater risk of malware, many examples of lesser quality apps and not all apps work with all devices.

 

BlackBerry App World

Despite being home to far fewer apps than other big-name stores, BlackBerry App World came second only to Apple in 2010′s revenue charts, showing they’ve got a loyal following not afraid to spend money in the store. App World’s rollout was relatively slow, and has only recently made it into Europe, so expect it to continue growing over the coming year.

 

Launch Date: April 2009.

Number of Apps: 20,000+

Downloads Stats: Estimated 3 million per day.

Devices Supported: Anything running BlackBerry OS.

Positives: High quality applications, RIM screening process, device and web presence.

Negatives: Not the biggest choice, poor on-device browsing experience, expensive apps and few free options.

 

Windows Phone Marketplace

Rising from the ashes of the Windows Marketplace for Mobile, Windows Phone Marketplace caters for WP7 handsets. Introduced at Mobile World Congress in 2010, it appears to be the newest application store on our list, when it is in fact a similar age to the rest after evolved from stores supporting Windows Mobile.

 

Launch Date: October 2010.

Number of Apps: 12,000+

Download Stats: Unknown.

Devices Supported: Anything running Windows Phone 7.

Positives: It’s growing quickly, is sensibly priced and has good developer support.

Negatives: The platform is still young and needs to build a user base to attract more apps and developers.

 

Nokia Ovi Store

The future is in doubt for Nokia’s Ovi Store, at least when it comes to smartphones, as Nokia’s adoption of Windows Phone 7 and distancing from Symbian could see the Ovi Store soon fall out of favour. Until that happens though, the Ovi Store will continue producing great numbers, boasting an 80% conversion rate, availability in 190 countries, multiple languages and more than 4 million visitors per day.

 

Launch Date: August 2008.

Number of Apps: 30,000+

Download Stats: Estimated 3 million per day.

Devices Supported: The vast majority of Nokia phones.

Positives: A wealth of quality apps, a good split between utilities and games and good prices.

Negatives: Navigation isn’t very intuitive and the store application itself can be buggy.

The List Goes On…

While the above examples will be familiar names, they’re not the only stores in town. The list could continue on for sometime, so we’ll just add a few more examples here to give you an idea of just how far-reaching the application store phenomenon really is.

Palm App Catalog.

Launched in 2009, Palm’s store still exists but is likely to be in a state of flux given Palm and HP’s new.

Cydia

The alternative iOS application store, where almost anything goes. You’ll have to jailbreak your phone to access Cydia, but if you’re wanting to do things that Apple normally wouldn’t allow, it could be worth it.

Getjar

Getjar.com claims to be the world’s largest open app store, with more than 1.7 billion downloads to date. Primarily serving Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry devices, Getjar have a number of developers working exclusively with them and still continue to raise investment for further expansion.

Samsung Apps

We’ve popped Samsung’s app store here as it contains apps not only for use on mobile devices, but for other Samsung connected devices such as Blu-ray players and TVs too. The main mobile focus is bada, and the store has recently passed 100 million total downloads.

When you start to look outside the mobile space, things start to get even more crowded, with many PC-based examples joining the crowd, from the new Mac App Store to Steam, the gaming store. Consoles such as the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox also have their own online stores, which work in an almost identical way to mobile ones.

The obsession with app stores continues with networks offering their own ‘walled-garden’ stores, browser company Opera’s new Mobile Store and even retailers such as PC World and Currys joining up with Intel to open the AppUp netbook application store.

The Future

A couple of years ago, Google’s Engineering VP Vic Gundotra said ‘the web had won’ and there would be a shift from applications written for phones to being written for powerful browsers. While Palm are famed for using a web-based OS, and Motorola are rumoured to be creating one of their own, this hasn’t come true yet and the app store is still going strong. That’s not to say it will continue though, as web apps are still being touted by some as the future.

Apps and app stores will have to evolve to survive, as the growth they’re currently achieving will mean saturation could be reached far quicker than expected. Developers and manufacturers must give customers more innovative, better looking and more useful apps if they want to get noticed. They’ll also have to build a strong brand, and should look no further than Rovio Mobile as an excellent example on how to turn a mobile game into a cultural phenomenon.

Apps will also continue to spread out from the mobile space, becoming available for different connected devices from cars to printers to eBook readers.

However, with mobile-based social networking becoming more and more important and the smartphone continuing its own rise to power, mobile platform-specific app stores aren’t going to disappear overnight; not with a potential $38 billion pot to play for by 2015!

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