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This week, news about non-native app stores was a bit like a proverbial bus: you wait for ages, and then two announcements come along at once. A new solution from Openwave (NSDQ: OPWV) and GetJar; and a rebranded white-label store, Appia, formerly known as PocketGear, the multi-platform app store backed by Google’s Eric Schmidt — both launched.
The Openwave / GetJar announcement isn’t for an app store as such, but it is a deal to enhance how the GetJar app store distributes its content on different devices, and to integrate the charging for those apps with operators’ own systems. Under the deal, Openwave will be integrating its Amplicity platform — a browser-based platform for distributing apps and connecting payment options through to operators’ systems — with GetJar’s apps catalog, which currently has some 75,000 apps.
This service is mainly notable for being one more effort to get operators involved in the apps ecosystem, and for being a store that will exist not as an “app” on the device itself but as a link to an HTML-based store — it will, as such, work on most smartphone platforms (although not all the apps will). It will be using this distribution advantage to encourage more developers to write for the platform, and potentially include more apps that are not free as GetJar’s currently are.
While the service and the apps will be browser-based, a user’s interaction with it will not necessarily be so: the service will feature a “floating toolbar on the subscriber screen that can be populated with applications without having to download them to the handset.” This toolbar will also be used to offer new apps to users.
Without seeing the service in the flesh — the service has one named customer now, Sprint (NYSE: S) in the U.S., which signed on in October, 2010 — it is hard to say how it will compare to the on-device, native app stores that have come to dominate this market. But some initial questions come to mind: Do users really want a floating toolbar on their screens? If the apps are stored and used online, how do you access them when you are offline?
The primary difference between Appia and this Openwave/GetJar product will be, in the words of Dov Cohn, VP of marketing, “our ability to launch white label, integrated storefronts for our carrier partners, not just link aways.” He says Appia’s current catalog numbers 140,000 paid and free apps, compared to GetJar’s free 75,000, and can work across 3,200 devices.
This week, Appia made a push to drive that application catalog up even higher, with the opening up an updated developer portal for developers to upload apps for discovery, download and distribution globally.
Appia has, in fact, been around since 2008, when, as PocketGear, it was spun-off from mobile data specialists Motricity (itself trying to do more in apps too).
Last August, the company received $15 million in investment from Trident Capital, Eric Schmidt’s Tomorrow Ventures and the BlackBerry Fund. And it says it already provides white-label app stores to some 40 partners, including mobile operators like Verizon, AT&T (NYSE: T) and T-Mobile; handset makers like Samsung and mobile portals.
Appia works on all the major mobile platforms (excepting Apple’s) and is available already.
Both Appia and Openwave/GetJar are bringing something new to the table, but the real question will be how they will grow compared to the already-popular native stores. We already have pretty extensive (and growing) app store offerings from the likes of Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), Android, BlackBerry, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) — not to mention existing non-native stores like GetJar; and have seen little in the way of stats of how well the white-label and HTML offerings are comparing in terms of popularity and revenue generation.
Native services — which already have millions of users’ attention — are not only adding more apps by the hour, but they are also getting enhanced in other ways. Google (NSDQ: GOOG) this week announced it would be introducing in-app billing to its Android Market. RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) followed suit with its own launch of a billing service for its App World. And Apple is also starting to integrate its own subscription charging service for in-app payments.
That means those two buses that have just come along might end up getting stuck in a traffic jam.