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Summary:

Sometime in the near future, Apple is going to announce that a billion little apps have been download for use on its iPhone and iPod touch platforms. As of yesterday, about 945 million apps had been download. That translates to about 31 apps per iPhone/iPod touch […]

iappsSometime in the near future, Apple is going to announce that a billion little apps have been download for use on its iPhone and iPod touch platforms. As of yesterday, about 945 million apps had been download. That translates to about 31 apps per iPhone/iPod touch out there. As it crosses the billion-apps mark, the company is showing that once again it has been able to take an existing, mundane business and turn it on its head. It panned a lead mine and struck gold. When the company took on the seemingly moribund music downloads business and turned it into a constantly clanging cash register, its detractors often bemoaned its autocratic ways and tight control of the iPod ecosystem. Apple, nevertheless, changed consumers’ behavior from downloading music on Napster to actually paying for it, and in the process, it became the largest digital downloads retailer.

Something similar is going on with mobile apps and the iPhone/iPod touch ecosystem. Apple certainly isn’t the first company to have apps for its platform — that honor goes to Palm, which ruled the PDA planet, thanks to its thousands of developers. Nokia, Microsoft and RIM have had developers writing clever apps for their Symbian, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry operating systems.

But neither the handset makers, the carriers, or even the OS vendors were able to create a user experience that allowed us to browse, search and download the app that really mattered. Perhaps they didn’t care enough — so long as the mobile industry maintained its status quo. Mike Rowehl, a mobile industry insider, writes:

The entire system was deadlocked cause no one with the power to was really interested in shaking it up. We kept getting fed excuse after excuse justifying the general lack of forward progress on all fronts. But then something comes along that makes it easy, often profitable, and frequently even fun to develop for mobile again. Apple has exposed the fact that the lack of progress in mobile wasn’t something inherent in the system. That someone with the right motivation can really shake things up and get the train moving again.

Since Apple’s iTunes for apps, almost everyone has jumped on the App-store bandwagon. RIM just announced its very competent App World store for BlackBerry. Microsoft is cooking one up, and Nokia has Ovi. Google has its Android Market. Every carrier is cooking up its own version of the app store. The current app store market is no different from the digital music download business in 2005. The market confusion helped Apple eventually become the dominant player, with Amazon presenting the only viable challenge.

Ask mobile app developers, and an overwhelming number are going for iPhone platform first, everything else later. Rowehl writes:

I’ve developed for just about every platform, and I know the ecosystem extremely well. It’s not that I’m blind to everything else. I know everything else that’s out there, and because of that I’ve chosen to develop for iPhone.

He’s not alone, as I pointed out earlier. According to some reports, Nokia’s Ovi store is being ignored by developers, even though Nokia ships many millions of smartphones every month. It seems folks at Nokia are aware of the problem at hand, though I’m not sure they quite get the extent of the apathy among developers. Earlier this month, when I met Anssi Vanjoki, executive V-P of markets at Nokia, the discussion unsurprisingly shifted toward Apple’s iPhone and the developer momentum.

“There is momentum with other platforms, which is good for the industry, as developers are now thinking about developing for mobile devices,” Vanjoki said. “But the situation is not static, and when products like N97 come to market, lots of people will develop for Nokia. We have to show volume, ease of development and show them (developers) the money.” Nokia clearly has its work cut out for it, if developers like Rowehl are any indication.

ipodtouchappstore

From a consumer perspective, what really matters to me is the long-tail of apps that are easy to find, download and install. I may have given up on AT&T’s iPhone, but I have not given up on the iPhone platform. Why? Because of the applications.

On my iPod Touch, I have three dozen apps installed, only a handful of them (like Facebook, NetNewsFire and Last.fm) that are free. Some are part of my daily work and play life: Sonus Controller, MLB.com At Bat, Plusmo’s Mobicast, Evernote, Skype and Truphone. There are others that are indispensable to me: iBP, Weight Track and Blood Sugar. Prior to downloading these apps, I recorded my daily blood pressure, weight and glucose levels on a piece of paper, entering the data into a spreadsheet later and mailing it to my doctor every month. These obscure apps aren’t likely to be on the top 10 anytime soon, but they are on my top 10.

As Apple’s latest TV spots for the iPhone say, “There is an app for pretty much everything.” With nearly a billion downloads, you can say that again. To all the other contenders, good luck catching up.

(*) 945 million apps divided by 30 million iPod touches and iPhones.

  1. [...] the “I Wish I thought of That” category – Om Malik writes how Apple has once again found “gold” by changing consumer preferences. It’s app [...]

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  2. Om,

    You are absolutely right. iPhone is the development platform of choice for developers. While we did the IDrive Lite, the online backup for Contacts on the iPhone platform first, the only other platform for which we have real user requests and are actually considering developing is the Blackberry platform.

    Raghu
    IDrive.com

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  3. Proves once more that breakthrough innovation hardly ever comes from the inside. It takes an outsider to take out the incumbent…

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  4. The best thing that the other smartphone platforms can do is to accelerate their support for HTML5 & BONDI/PhoneGap. This will make it easier for developers to deliver sophisticated web apps that span all of the smartphone OSes.

    There is a cool Gmail demo using HTML5 here:

    There is a PhoneGap demo here:
    http://phonegap.com/

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    1. Here’s the same demo of Google Maps running on the Palm Pre.

      http://www.engadget.com/2009/02/18/google-demos-html5-based-maps-on-the-palm-pre/

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  5. Interesting that the kind of third party development/outside innovation/crowdsourced popularity generator that helped drive iPhone sales is almost exactly the opposite of Apple’s strategy in its desktop and laptop hardware segments. Are the wheels in Cupertino turning?

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  6. Om

    One major reason of the success of the iPhone is that the ideas for apps are coming primarily from the consumers. Never before had the consumer been exposed so such a simple UI and such great innovations like the ones present in the iPhone.

    This marriage of the long tail of human ingenuity and the iPhone innovations has just proved brilliant. The iPhone platform has enable the aggregation of human ideas that can be implemented on the iPhone, and this has created a lot of innovative apps.

    Anyone in the world can have an idea, get it developed relatively inexpensively and then have the app to the consumer in a matter of weeks. This same process used to take months if not years when the enterprises (hardware and software vendors in the mobile space) used to take such decisions for us.

    We think the Appstore is the greatest ever market research being carried out, with instantaneous feedback!

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  7. Om,

    The emphasis on user experience has probably also played a role in decision making elsewhere. Whether it was the relationship with the developers or others. In a post on Nokia, I had listed down some aspects of the experience that needed improvement. It is here..

    http://futurechat.in/nokia-some-thoughts-to-re-inspire-existing-customers/

    The other question that one must consider, have some other providers thought more of corporate admin departments rather than the end user in defining their customer. In which case, there is likely to be some confusion in decision making with regard to making applications for the customers who actually use the phone. This is borne by a personal experience. Last year around this time, I had wanted to know if their was a mobile application that integrated with learning management systems to provide mobile friendly content on Blackberry. After extensive trying, I had to give up because the information could not be provided because I was not from the major analyst firms.

    Would like to know your views.. thanks

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  8. [...] 6:21AM - How Apple Put Everyone In An App State Of Mind (via GigaOm) Liked this post? Vote on it and Digg IT So Others Can Find It [...]

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  9. Despite the iphone having serious technical drawbacks, eg, no front camera, no wii-fi, the battery can’t be changed and a whole host of other drawbacks, judging from the no. of 3rd party apps that are developed for the iphone, it seems that it is here to stay, and it’s growing. This, despite the fact that there are better phones compared to the iphone in the market.

    So Apple’s competitors may come up with their own app store, but 3rd party app developers will choose to make apps for the iphone first, then make it compatible for the rest of the hps

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    1. Where did you get the iPhone has no wi-fi?

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    2. First, the likelihood of video chat will necessitate a front camera. Secondly, the iPhone has Wi-Fi. Thirdly, consumers do not care about removable batteries. They care about power. Hopefully, Apple will create some sort of power pad…

      Better phones are only useful in the sense of better applications. Having dual channel UMTS only matters if I have a decent browser. Apple was the first to have a fully functional browser, thankfully sans Flash, in the mobile space. Palm’s OS is based on these tools — WebKit.

      Apple proves again and again, that technical specifications are only important when inefficiencies make the experience seem slow. While the Nokia N810 appeared slow to me, the iPhone never really has. Do not use Flash on the N810! And, by this summer any thoughts of the iPhone as anything less than a mobile computer are going to be erased.

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  10. Om,

    Now if only we found another Steve Jobs among the 6-7 billion of us inhabiting the planet who figured out a way to finally cure cancer, HIV, many dreaded diseases, alternate energy solutions, heart diseases, blood pressure issues and the countless other serious yet very very neglected things that plague the planet – these too are lead mines — but we need to find gold here…oh and did I mention peace?

    thanks!

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