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Summary:

Is there room in the world for an Apple-like mobile software store comprised of web apps? One person thinks so and just launched an iPhone app to gather up web-based applications, making it easier for both consumers and developers to find and sell Internet wares.

Is there room in the world for an Apple-like mobile software store comprised of web apps? Teck Chia thinks there is and he just launched the OpenAppMkt to prove it. His solution is a combination of a website and an iOS4 app that centralizes both free and paid web apps. Listing a web app doesn’t cost a dime, but developers offering paid web apps will give a 20 percent revenue cut to Chia.

I asked Chia a few questions by email about his endeavor, mainly because I’m not convinced that there’s a need for such a product. After all, Apple already lists web apps for iOS4 devices and doesn’t charge developers for the listing. Chia’s responses:

We have a mobile webapp that is very familiar to users of the Apple app store, so they can browse and easily install webapps to their homescreen just like they have been doing with native apps. The webapp is very indistinguishable from a native app from the standpoint of usability. We provide an integrated and seamless way for developers to sell apps on the iPhone directly. The payment system we implemented is very familiar to every iPhone user. You enter credit card once and then subsequent purchases are just a password confirmation to buy.

So there is a convenience factor offered by OpenAppMkt. The software and store make it easy to find and “intstall” a web app by adding a shortcut to a user’s bookmarks or home screen. And end-users are familiar with this type of interface. But I’m still hung up on why a developer would offer up a revenue share when they can easily provide web apps themselves. Chia disagreed with me on this point in our email conversation:

If a developer were to do payment processing herself, she would be hard-pressed to find rates below a 2.x% + $0.30 fee for each credit card transaction. For apps that are $0.99 (most popular price for apps), that is 32%+ taken away from your revenue already. Not to mention that small developers would find it difficult to get approved for a merchant account.

Again, there’s convenience involved, only this time it is for the programmer. There is a value-add offered then to both developer and consumer, but I’m not convinced there’s enough of it there for OpenAppMkt. And the use of web-based apps took on the role of a second class citizen when Apple opened up its mobile app store in 2008. One item in favor of Chia, however, is the evolution of HTML5 and the new capabilities it can bring to web apps such as offline storage and databases. The promise of robust web-apps in the future could be positioning the OpenAppMkt well now, but that remains to be seen. Is Chia on to something or is such an effort simply not needed in today’s world of app stores?


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  1. I’m having a hard time understanding the need for it, too. I can see a need to have a list of web-optimized site, but a full-blown site? What percentage of web apps have an associated cost?

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  2. Peter Zingg Friday, July 30, 2010

    Jolicloud does this: provide an “installer” for web apps as well as binaries. All are “free” of course.

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  3. We might need a search interface for web apps but surely not a store (Battelle has written about how the App Store needs search); which in any case blends the boundary between the openness of the web, and the closedness of Apple, too much.

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  4. It’s about control of distribution. Apple clearly is cool with HTML5, that isn’t new. Everyone is also right that Apple clearly dominates distribution, but it’s not an absolute lock. The only way you can ever wrestle control away from Apple is if someone creates an alternative, which is what OpenAppMkt has started. Just because it’s not huge now, or it’s not dominate now, doesn’t mean that it can’t become a player in the future.

    I wrote more about it here

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  5. I am interested to see where this goes for sure. I added the OpenAppMkt to my iPhone as soon as I heard about it and like what I see so far. However, I don’t think the average iPhone user is going to look outside the App Store for what they need. It is interesting for those of us “in the know” but overall I don’t think it is going to be very successful. For now I think web app developers (that want to charge for apps) are better off with using something like Titanium, Phonegap, etc. to sell their apps in the App Store. Sure it is much more expensive to get started but the audience is already there.

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  6. I agree with Jay that this idea faces an uphill struggle to get the attention of ordinary users. However, I don’t agree with the post that web apps are now second-class citizens. Apple would probably like everyone to believe that (and to some extent, they’ve crippled mobile Safari in ways that tend to make it so, e.g., unlike desktop Safari, mobile Safari refuses to download vCards into your contacts). But I spend at least as much time using web apps as native apps on my phone. Google Reader is probably the single most-used app on my phone, and it’s a web app.

    Also, take a look at the money Sequoia Capital just invested in Sencha, whose new flagship product, Sencha Touch, is a framework for building web apps for phones and other touch-screen devices. It may be that most apps built with Sencha Touch will ultimately get wrapped up in Titanium or PhoneGap and distributed through Apple’s store, but there’s no reason they can’t be distributed through OpenAppMkt too (unless Apple decides to be pissy about that). Users who get them through OpenAppMkt could be given earlier access to new features and bug fixes, which could be a significant attraction for some apps and users.

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  7. OpenAppMkt was absolutely needed and very much appreciated! I just hope it gets enough exposure to become a viable web app marketplace, giving developers an incentive to submit their applications.

    I can tell you, I have enjoyed about 80+ installs a week (submitted about two weeks ago) thanks to OpenAppMkt, for what I would consider to be a niche product; developers making general tools for users will likely see great adoption rates thanks to OpenAppMkt!

    Keep up the awesome work, Teck Chia!

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