The Mobile App Store Landscape 5 years Ai (After the iPhone)
[This is a repost of my guest article at Vision Mobile's blog]
2009 was the year of the app store wannabes. Following the remarkable success of the Apple App Store, OEMs, mobile platform vendors, mobile operators, and traditional aggregators either created new app stores or repositioned their existing offerings as app stores. There are now between 24 to 32 app stores depending on who is counting (see Distimo’s app store report and the WIP App Store Wiki for reference), and more stores are surely to follow. However, key questions remain about how the app store landscape will emerge after the current period of hysteria subsides and the dust settles.
- Are we going to see many app stores on each handset?
- Will app malls emerge to host multiple app stores within?
- Will operator stores gain critical mass?
[Or will we see a "no app store" future as proposed by Matt Millar via the comment thread?]
Andreas Constantinou wrote an excellent article that defines the app store building blocks and predicts a “dime-a-dozen” app store future. I will build on this post, but will offer an alternative view of how the landscape will evolve.
It’s a Winner-Take-All Contest
If we were to extrapolate the current trend, we could expect a future where each handset will host many app stores. An LG Android device on the Orange network would have the LG App Store, the Android Market, and the Orange App Shop. The Verizon version would have the V CAST store in place of the Orange App Shop. On top of this, you could add the Getjar multiplatform store and several specialty stores for say, games, health, and productivity apps to name just a few. Can you imagine the mess this would create for the user experience? Which app store do I launch? Which apps do I find on which store? Are apps duplicated on multiple stores? Are the prices the same across stores or do I need to shop around? Are the versions of the apps consistent across stores?
Fortunately when the dust settles consolidation will occur and one app store will command nearly all the market share on each device. Sure there may be a couple “also rans” with a small share, but as history has shown us, these two-sided platform battles tend to result in winner-take-all contests (see definition of two-sided markets here). We’ve seen similar battles already play out on the web with Amazon winning e-commerce, eBay winning auctions, and Google winning search.
Why winner-take-all markets happen has already been well documented. Economists Frank and Cook documented this phenomenon with their Winner Take All Society book and Rich Skrenta wrote a nice post on the battle for search supremacy that led to Google’s reign. In two-sided markets there are two sets of users (consumers and developers in the case of app stores) and once both sets of users pick a winner, it is very hard for competitors to gain much share. To cut to the chase, the app store battle in mobile will also result in a winner-take-all contest for the following reasons:
Please see the rest of the article at Vision Mobile’s blog and join the discussion via its comment thread.