[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
By now I’m sure you’ve seen Verizon’s aggressive “idon’t” campaign to compete against the iPhone with its new Motorola Droid. This is Verizon’s second attack on the iPhone after the first attempt with the Blackberry Storm failed miserably. Despite the Storm, AT&T continued to add new subs on the strength of the iPhone. Just last quarter AT&T added another 3.2 million new iPhones, 40% of whom were new customers to AT&T (a 2 year trend now).
Although Verizon desperately needs to counter the iPhone, I believe this latest attempt will hurt RIM much more than Apple. In other words, it will backfire cannibalizing more Verizon RIM devices than AT&T iphone devices. Here are two reasons why:
I want to write about merchandising apps in the mobile ecosystem, but first let me say that we need a new way to measure time in mobile. The launch of the iPhone changed the ecosystem so dramatically that any discussion of how the mobile ecosystem works must specify Ai or Bi (After or Before the iPhone), in a similar way that historians use BC and AD to date historical events.
As an example, how you merchandise a mobile application today is very different than at any time Bi. And this is what I want to post about.
At CTIA in San Diego I attended and spoke at the #wipjam event and I found the discussion on merchandising apps most interesting. It was led by Mitch Oliver from Qualcomm with many developers sharing their experiences, and I thought it would be good to share some of the learnings with developers looking to go mobile. Some of you not interested in the details may want to skip to the recommendations below.
I just participated in a panel discussion representing developer needs from operators. The panel was moderated by Alan Qualye who kicked off the panel with the question:
If you could have one wish to make working with a operator easier, what would that wish be?
Having worked with many developers I have many wishes, but my top wish for operators is simply to LISTEN to developers. And by this, I mean to really listen, prioritize their requirements, and take action.
Only a year ago operators had a virtual monopoly for distribution of mobile applications and developers had to beg to get on deck. It was difficult to get on deck, it was expensive to get certified on every handset, revenue share was low, and it was difficult to stay on deck because discovery by consumers was difficult.
But the tables have been turned now. Competition for developers is at an all-time high. Handset OEMs, OS players, development tool vendors, social networks, game consoles, operators, infra providers are all luring developers. In fact, many developer programs have even created multimillion dollar funds to subsidize developers for their platform (such as the $10M Open Screen Project Fund my team and I set up for Adobe with Nokia).
I just read that Apple is rumored to be developing a digital payment platorm and this prompted me to post this article about another possible missed opportunity for mobile operators I’ve been thinking about.
For the longest time mobile operators have closely guarded important assets such as their customers’ location, messaging, and billing relationship. As revenue growth from consumers is slowing, the talk in the industry is that operators should leverage these assets to generate revenue from third parties who value them. For example, an application developer could incorporate location information to differentiate his application from the 1000’s of other apps in the app stores. Another application could use text messaging for notifications, and a game developer could charge users on the operator’s bill to upgrade to a new level.
This all makes sense and would enable operators to avoid the same commoditization fate that the internet service providers already suffered. The problem is that operators are not moving fast enough and these capabilities are now becoming available outside of the operator domain:
A while ago I attended Fierce’s Mobile Operating System Debate webinar and could not help but notice the dismal future of BREW as a platform for mobile application development. As illustrated on slide 5 (see presentation from webinar referenced above), iGR found that ZERO percent of existing mobile developers surveyed planned to develop for BREW in the future. We could debate the specifics of the data in the survey, but it is clear that BREW is losing developer mind share rapidly (while Apple, Google and RIM are all gaining share, as confirmed by iGR’s survey).
To make matters worse, just yesterday Lowell McAdam, Verizon’s CEO, announced that Verizon (BREW’s biggest supporter) will be putting its weight behind the Java platform as part of its new effort to open its network to application developers. Could this be the final nail in the coffin for BREW? It’s not clear, but please voice your opinion via the poll below. In any case, what is most important is to understand the key lessons learned from the BREW experience:
Once upon a time operator branded app stores were thought to be doing well. After all, lots of games, screen savers, and ring tones were being downloaded on mass market feature phones. Qualcomm bragged about its thriving developer community and Verizon’s Get it Now store was a good case study in the industry.