App Stores Cometh?

Everyone wants to develop an App Store as Apple has done already. So then, what do we have to look forward to? New apps, that will appeal more to the average consumer than the power user, more games or is this all a big mistake in a bid to compete with the Apple App Store. With all this luming in the air I felt it appropriate to list a few of my concerns on this topic.

I’ll start with, I like the idea. From owning an iPhone I can say that having an Application Store on the device makes it beyond convenient. It’s super easy to not only purchase software but also to find new software titles no matter where you are any time of day. Providing this kind of access is only possible if done similar to how Apple has done theirs. Seamless and perfectly integrated into the OS, and supported by a strong backend. If that’s what Microsoft and others are planning to do it then this will in fact be pretty awesome for consumers of all levels. If not, then we may be looking at just another mistep and a consumer nightmare plagued with problems.

This is what currently upsets me the most with all these companies with plans of an App Store. If Apple did not create an App Store, then would any of it’s competitors have stepped to the plate in such a frenzy as they want to do now? I seriously wonder what they have been waiting for. The technology has been in place for some time now, so what’s the deal. Microsoft has been in the smartphone market for 6 years, RIM for 7 years and Nokia for 12 years; a whole 5 years longer than it’s competition and before the term “smartphone” was even coined. Why wait until a competitor gets the jump on you before you make your next move.

My next question is this. Excluding the Google Android OS; how are consumers going to get this on their mobile devices. I believe this is an issue for all these companies but for this purpose I am going to use Microsoft as an example since I have used the Windows Mobile OS the longest. Only Apple so far has released regular OS updates for a phone in both versions. It was also originally stated that all of the iPhones will run the same OS version. Microsoft originally made a similar claim except the latter but it turned out to only be half true. To Microsoft’s credit it’s not entirely their fault either. The first thing that comes to mind is the lack of timely updates. Microsoft says they issue updates to OEMs but it appears that most of these updates almost never make it to consumers. The OEMs and carriers take so long to approve, develop and release an update that if of gets to the consumer it’s usually time for a new OS version to be released. The other problem is that newly released devices usually have the updated software on them before older devices if any receive an update. So how is Microsoft’s App Store going to get into the hands of the consumer with OEMs continuing to use this model of distribution. Windows Mobile 6.1 just got out to consumers over the past few months and Windows Mobile 7 is due out in Q1 2009. So will this mean it will be part of the WM7 release which for most consumers will mean the purchasing a new device or will there be another update to WM6 first.
Another update issue is the fact that unlike the iPhone OS which was developed for only one formfactor, the Windows Mobile OS comes in two versions. To keep is simple there’s the Professional version which encompasses the touch screen devices and the Smartphone version which encompasses the non-touch screen devices. This puts further delays in delivering updates. Apple to their credit does not have this issue to contend with. When an update is ready for release that’s it, all you need to do is check iTunes or download it directly and install it at your convenience. At the same time Microsoft is notorious for not keeping their partners informed. Microsoft has a lot of work ahead of them on top of the fact that they are slow to roll out updates.

My next concern is the downloading of applications themselves. Apples rule is that any app over 10MB can only be dowloaded via WiFi or from a PC to be sideloaded on to the iPhone. This is a pretty reasonable solution to controlling bandwidth and insuring downloads don’t take expremely long periods of time. If you look at some of Microsoft’s OEM partners who create WM devices you’ll find that some may have pigeon holed themselves due to the fact not all WM smartphone have WiFi. Should Microsoft use the same or similar download solution then consumers will have no choice other than to spend more money on a new device.

Then we have the good old storage debate. I realize that WM devices use memory cards for added storage but where are applications actually going to be downloaded to. If it’s to the device itself and I suspect of has to be, then people must always make sure they have enough space on the device. It’s nearing the end of 2008 in the 21st century and even the current WM devices only ship with a max of 256MB ROM/RAM and in many cases some with only 128MB ROM/64MB RAM. In a rare instance you may find 512MB ROM or more but this is far from the norm. Memory cards aside these devices still need much more builtin memory with all the capabilities they have and continue to receive. It took more than a decade for us to get 256MB how much longer will it be before we see 512MB or dare I say even 4MB as the norm. Less than a handful of OEMs have stepped up to the plate and created 4MB WM devices. I don’t know what the other OEMs are waiting for but it’s time to start raising the bar here.

My next concern is one for developers. What if anything will they be charged for having their apps in the store. Microsoft’s Windows Mobile for example while not perfect, is a rather mature OS compared to the iPhone OS. So with that in mind I’m having a little difficulty envisioning software developers even making enough for development from the WM OS any more in such a small market as this. I know that there are always new consumers who wish to purchase apps for their WM devices but for the seasoned veterans like myself what’s left. Don’t get me wrong games sell but those are one time purchases unless there’s a part two, part three, etc. And we always have software updates in the form of a one-dot-zero release that we’re sometimes charged for. But even those are usually about a year apart and surely not enough to keep any App Store running. Even a really fantastic application is far and in between not to mention the amount of time it takes to create, develop, test and finally release an application.

Finally, what will this do to online software merchants like Handango, PocketGear and others. With an App Store on the device will they have to compete or will this merely be a shortcut to their sites.
Maybe I’m missing something but I don’t see how this is working out in the end. Apple has a lot of issues to deal with but not as many as Microsoft, Nokia or RIM. These are some things that was on my mind.


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