Vodafone today has followed in the footsteps of other carriers concerned about becoming a dumb pipe by unveiling plans for an application store. But the details provided by Reuters have me questioning the success of the venture. First, Vodafone is taking a 30 percent cut of the revenue for all apps, which is what Apple charges, and is pretty close to the 33 percent or 40 percent that phone companies charged app makers in the pre-Apple days. That seems like a lot for a me-too product that developers will be skeptical of.
There’s also the question of the user experience and app discovery. The App Store nailed the user experience — and that’s why it is so successful. Technically savvy consumers want to buy the iPhone; they want to download the apps (and lots of them), and developers don’t mind giving up a cut of their sales to build for the platform. It’s hard to imagine that Vodafone, even with the promise of attracting millions of potential users, can make its app store as sexy.
However, the company is giving it a try. The plan is to launch the store in a variety of European markets before the end of the year. Developers will build their apps using a Vodafone-supplied program that will ensure an app runs on any Vodafone device — giving the app a large potential user base. The carrier is also working to extend the app store to its partners including Verizon Wireless, in which it owns a 45 percent stake. The other two enticements for developers are direct billing of a subscriber through the carrier and access to Vodafone’s network information, including a subscriber’s location. Direct billing might enable easier micro-payments for items, and the location information might save developers the cost of attempting to access the location using a database service.
And in the case of dueling app stores, like what may be found on Nokia phones on Vodafone’s network, the carrier said that the users decide which one they want to use. That’s actually pretty open-minded coming from a carrier. If these stores are well-designed, and carriers are really ready to provide a good experience for both consumers and developers, carriers may boost their bottom lines, and we may see some nice applications. However, it’s still likely that P2P and VoIP apps won’t be among them.