App Stores Still a Wide-Open Space

itunes-app-store-1As we enter the era of the app store, Apple is clearly the dominant player on the field. The company’s iTunes-based mobile application business generates an estimated $2.4 billion hundreds of millions of dollars a year. (According to AdMob, $200 million a month, though some have disputed that estimate. See: The iPhone App Market Size Debate: Is It $2.4B a Year or $250M? AdMob Responds) and its library boasts an astounding 65,000 offerings.) And app store sales are sure to ramp up as the iPhone comes to market in China — the world’s largest wireless market — where an estimated 3 million units are expected to sell over the next year.

Players are beginning to emerge in Apple’s rear-view mirror, though. Google’s Android was slow out of the gate last year but is sure to gain momentum later this year as new handsets come to market through carriers around the world. Research In Motion — which boasts more than 28 million subscribers worldwide — has joined the field with App World as it impressively expands beyond high-end business users to tap more mainstream consumers. Nokia seems to have addressed many of the problems that plagued its Ovi Store in its early days. Palm offers a retail outlet for apps running on its Pre. Microsoft is readying for the launch of its Windows Marketplace for Mobile, and a host of other players are rolling out their own branded app storefronts. And as a new report from GigaOM Pro (subscription required) illustrates, those that can build a better app store — or that can improve on existing offerings — have a chance to thrive.

Check out our latest GigaOM Pro report, “Surveying the Mobile App Store Landscape” (subscription required). We will also be discussing this topic at our Mobilize 09 conference on Sept. 10, 2009.

The newcomers — and those planning to play in the space — are vying for market share amid longtime players such as Handango, Handmark and GetJar, which were delivering mobile apps and content long before Apple brought its App Store to market. But substantial hurdles remain: As Apple has discovered, offering an overwhelming number of apps can result in a confusing shopping atmosphere where quality offerings can be hard to discover and developers struggle to bring attention to their wares. Also, application retailers must walk a fine line between policing their shelves — risking the ire of both users and developers — and offering controversial, or even offensive, content. Most importantly, the space teems with “frenemies,” as evidenced by Verizon’s decision to launch its own app store at the expense of other, platform-exclusive stores.

Despite those challenges, the momentum of the new distribution channel is undeniable — and its near-term growth is just as certain. While Apple is solidly entrenched as the premier retailer of smartphone applications, the nascent field remains a wide-open space with plenty of opportunity for newcomers.