The app store train seems unstoppable. According to a Juniper Research report out today, the number of “consumer-oriented handset downloads” is expected to rise from less than 2.6 billion per-year in 2009 to more than 25 billion in 2015.
The trend, notes the report, is being driven by industry players who are seeking to emulate Apple’s success with the App Store by launching their own branded storefronts, such as ‘Mobile Market’ from China Unicom, ‘Airtel App Central’ from Bharti and the ‘Apps & Games Shop’ on Vodafone 360.
And let’s not forget Google’s Android, Nokia Ovi, Palm, Windows Phone etc. or the independent giant GetJar, which passed 1 billion downloads earlier this month.
In other words, app stores are here to stay. Juniper has a warning, however: Copying the Apple model isn’t as straight forward as it would seem.
The report cautions that “players seeking to launch app stores would need to demonstrate sufficient scale to be able to induce developers to provide them with unique content.” It’s the classic catch-22 developer story.
Build it and they will come doesn’t necessarily translate to the world of third-party developers unless you can convince them that you can shift enough handsets or, well, actually shift those wares first. But even that is too simple a description of the problem. Apple’s iPhone is in a unique position in that consumers buy the phone for the apps providing a ready-made market for third-party developers, while this isn’t traditionally true of other handsets.
As report author Dr Windsor Holden says, “Apple has been able to achieve several billion downloads from a comparatively small handset base because customers are buying the iPhone for the apps… So even if you have a subscriber base of tens of millions, your addressable market is a fraction of that – and spread across a variety of operating systems and handsets”.
That would, perhaps, explain the disparity between Nokia Ovi’s (Symbian) scale, for example, and the reluctance of a new generation of third-party developers to commit to the platform. The same could also be said of Vodafone 360 – remember that developer competition – but it’s still relatively early days on all non-Apple fronts.
Of course, all of this presumes that with the advent of HTML5, browser-based mobile apps won’t make a comeback or begin to hold their own. The technology, such as off-line storage, in-line video, and more dynamic user interfaces, has the potential to provide a native app-like user experience, negating the need for app stores in many types of use cases.