App stores just a flash in the pan?

By September 7, 2009Apple, Mobile, Yahoo!

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FactoryJoe wrote an amusing tongue in cheek piece around a month ago poking fun at the app store.  He called it Steve Jobs hates the app store…  As well as doing a great job of charting the problems of the app store, many of which we’ve discussed here before he also makes the case that the App Store’s existence will be fleeting:

App Stores in general are a flash in the pan — hardly a competitor to the net. They’ll last a couple more years, but the web will win, if it hasn’t already — the missing piece is discovery — which is why iTunes is so critical to the iPhone’s success. We’re in the Yahoo! Directory phase of the application web — but rapidly entering the world of searchable, on-demand functionality. Are you really trying to tell me that I need to keep installing apps for the rest of my existence when I can just type URLs and pull down any app I want on the fly? Puh-lease.

I think he has a point here.  He is right that discovery is a missing piece, but he forgets that we will also need better mobile payments before web apps can bypass iTunes.  Beyond that I largely agree with him.

Ian Forrester quotes Vic Gundotra, a Google VP, making the same point, via the FT:

"We believe the web has won and over the next several years, the browser, for economic reasons almost, will become the platform that matters and certainly that’s where Google is investing.”

Mr Gundotra won some support from the rest of the panel. Michael Abbott, head of application software for Palm, said advances in the browser being introduced through HTML5 standards meant that web applications could tap features of particular phones such as their accelerometers.

As ever, timing will be a key question and it may well be that the leading iPhone app vendors are the ones best placed to win when the model transitions to the web, but it seems unlikely to me that five years from now we will be getting all our mobile apps via tightly controlled app stores.  This is AOL versus Yahoo! over again.

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  • With the difference being the handsets are more tied to the app store then they were in version 1. If AOL had a monopoly on the device and it was beautifully designed it might have turned out differently. To say that this is a replay assumes the same dynamics, which I'm not sure is true here.

    Don't get me wrong I think the web will win out, but I don't think Apple will fold as easily as AOL. The can integrate the app store into the web more (kind of like facebook is trying to do with it's connect platform) which might prove an effective strategy.

    Either way will be interesting to see it play out. Nice post Nic.

  • The appstore also functions as a discovery channel for mobile web services – they are listed as web apps http://www.apple.com/webapps/

    The problem with mobile web is that the dominant search interface (google/ search) is broken (page rank doesnt really work on mobile at the moment). Therefore, appstore-type interfaces might continue to be important even as things shift to the mobile web rather than downloadable applications.

  • Hi James – you are spot on that search and discovery on mobile needs to be better before we can move away from app stores. That will come though – either via Google, or a startup like Taptu.

  • Thanks Farhan. As you say mobile is different to web and Apple has the benefit of learning from AOL.

  • With the difference being the handsets are more tied to the app store then they were in version 1. If AOL had a monopoly on the device and it was beautifully designed it might have turned out differently. To say that this is a replay assumes the same dynamics, which I'm not sure is true here.

    Don't get me wrong I think the web will win out, but I don't think Apple will fold as easily as AOL. The can integrate the app store into the web more (kind of like facebook is trying to do with it's connect platform) which might prove an effective strategy.

    Either way will be interesting to see it play out. Nice post Nic.

  • The appstore also functions as a discovery channel for mobile web services – they are listed as web apps http://www.apple.com/webapps/

    The problem with mobile web is that the dominant search interface (google/ search) is broken (page rank doesnt really work on mobile at the moment). Therefore, appstore-type interfaces might continue to be important even as things shift to the mobile web rather than downloadable applications.

  • Hi James – you are spot on that search and discovery on mobile needs to be better before we can move away from app stores. That will come though – either via Google, or a startup like Taptu.

  • Thanks Farhan. As you say mobile is different to web and Apple has the benefit of learning from AOL.

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