Whoa — Research firm IDC predicts that the iPhone App Store catalog will reach 300,000 apps by the end of 2010! That’s just… wow. I really hope Apple figures out how to make it easier for us end users to parse all of that.
The number of iPhone apps has already shot up quite a bit, from 10,000 apps in November 08 to more than 100,000 a year later, which is like a ridiculously huge 900% growth rate. IDC’s Chief Analyst Frank Gens says, "It will be a watershed year for the ascension of mobile devices: For the first time, over 1 billion such devices will access the Internet. Smartphones will become strategic platforms for commercial and enterprise developers, with the number of iPhone apps tripling, and Android apps quintupling.”
THE ANDROID MARKET
Did you catch that last part? He said “Quintupling,” as in a fivefold growth for Android apps. That’s a really interesting thing to note. What’s more, Bank of America made a surprising choice in a recent television commercial. Often times when corporate entities want to promote a mobile web offering or a new app, they feature an iPhone as the go-to default device. Not so this time. BOA used a Motorola Droid. What’s striking was that the spot didn’t harp on a specific Android app at all — it was simply there to represent the general mobile-using population.
Is this an indicator of a changing tide? I know a lot of Android fans who hope so. This kind of rising popularity would definitely have a symbiotic relationship with app offerings: A greater number of Android users not only demands a larger inventory of programs, but practically guarantees it, as developers tend to flock to popular OSes.
For the sake of Android users (and everyone who has one in their lives), I hope it doesn’t wind up suffering from the iPhone “App Store syndrome” of overwhelming novelty apps, fart simulators and other fluff. (And let’s also hope that the availability of porn on this platform won’t comprise the majority of this growth.)
THE IPHONE "APP STORE SYNDROME"
Speaking of the “App Store syndrome,” Apple’s mystifying app review process has made onlookers wonder if there even is a process at all. (Some firmly believe it’s just a dartboard somewhere inside the Cupertino offices.) But despite this, the company’s financial success with it has been both lauded and envied.
In fact, the front page of Sunday’s NY Times Business Section waxed way poetic on the App Store. It cited Freeverse's Ian Lynch Smith, who said that one month of sales for his Skee-Ball app, which took two months to develop, amounted to $181,000. That’s not shabby at all. But everyone knows that things haven’t been that easy in the iPhone app development world. The article acknowledges how some indie developers get stymied by the app review stage. (There’s even a VoIP shop whose “in review” time can be measured by the year.)
Word has it that Apple is taking a harder look at the App Store's flaws, and how it’s deterring developers away from the platform (finally!). Steve Jobs himself even got involved to approve an app that had been rejected, while Apple’s typical tight-lip approach to controversial news disappeared. (When evidence surfaced that app developer Molinker was caught stacking fake glowing user reviews in the App Store, Phil Schiller confirmed that its programs — all 1,000+ apps — were pulled.) There’s even been a report of a reversal and approval for an app/update that was initially rejected, at lightning speed, no less.
Things seemed to be on such a great roll — until the news broke that non-jailbroken iPhones have security holes that are vulnerable to malicious apps. In light of this, there’s little chance that Apple will relax its app-review policies too much. But at least it looks like it's flipped the logic switch and is actually exercising more sound reasoning. That would be a welcome change.
AMERICA'S APP ATTACK
Let's face it: Downloading apps seems to have become America's new favorite pastime, so how these platforms handle their respective app store challenges — whether that's managing high-growth, allowing or blocking undesired or potentially harmful entries, or being too lax (or too rigid) in its guidelines — will factor in the ultimate success of these smartphones.
As an iPhone user, I hope Apple does wind up applying logic to the process — or better yet, actually making the review guidelines more transparent. And as an Android admirer, I root for the success of this OS and its apps as well. I'd love to see both platforms succeed because I think competition winds up benefitting all the users. If the app situation is any indicator of the platforms' health, and it seems like it is, then keeping an eye on the two stores over the coming year should be pretty revealing.
UPDATE: DailyFinance.com just ran a story today about Android app development. The whole article is worth a read, but it basically says that the explosive interest in Android, and the variety of different makers and devices, may be proof of its rising popularity, but the diverse range of hardware itself could be what throws off app development. According to a Deutsche Bank tech analyst, a lot of app developers are nervous about all the different UIs that various makers like HTC, Samsung, and Motorola are increasingly implementing. Each new device means additional tweaks to the apps, so that they are functional and attractive on each phone. There are already more than a dozen Android devices announced, so all that tweaking could wind up costing a lot.