back to article Only Apple can get away with App Stores

There are certain words I try and avoid when writing, because they confuse more than they enlighten. Terms such as "Business model", "Sustainability" and "Platform" are not just self-serving jargon - the real meaning is the opposite of what is intended. Well, even before this week, I expected the term "Mobile App Store" to be …


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  1. Adam Williamson 1


    Android Marketplace seems pretty successful from where I'm sitting. It's rammed with stuff and just about the first question for any non-official Android port is 'does it work with Marketplace?', which is a reasonable indicator of demand, I reckon.

    1. James Halliday

      It's OK

      but it's no App Store. My issue with Marketplace is that it's a little hard to dig stuff out of it.

      I own both an iPod touch and a Nexus One. I have bought quite a few apps for each of them. On the iphone I tend to read a review online, click the link that fires up itunes and have a gander at it. I'll then buy and it'll appear on my next sync.

      I've maybe bought one or two apps direct from my ipod.

      Android forces you to browse on the stupid phone. Sorry, it's a very nice phone - but looking at marketplace on my laptop and just being told to log in from my phone... seems quite ridiculous.

      Finding apps isn't a particularly wonderful experience on the hand held. You can look at the 'top' apps sorted into rough groups - but apart from that it's a matter of hurling in keywords and seeing if a suitable app comes back.

      Other bits of Marketplace are much nicer though. My phone handily beeps when there's an update and I can grab it with a couple of clicks. I can also try out ANY APP. Something quite wonderful about clicking buy without a care in the world - knowing you've got 24 hours to decide to keep it or return it (usually 5 mins does the trick). Returns are wonderful from a customers point of view, but not sure it's a great business model (i.e. I'm sure Apple and their developers) have made a killing by shifting shonky toys for 99c knowing most people will never load it again after the first few clicks).

  2. geist

    android fanboy

    I find my android phone very compelling, and the app store is great. Yesterday got a talking stop watch for screen breaks from the app store for my htc hero.

  3. stefn

    A Touch of Apps

    The Apple competitors are missing the boat, not producing an alternative to the iPod Touch, which drives a lot of business to the App Store. If Moto or Palm would put one out at $100 base, they would clean up.

    1. stefn

      Touch with eyes, Touch with ears

      And ... stick a camera and a mic on it. Yeow.

    2. stefn

      Touch.alt as shopping device ... killer feature

      And ... Apple competitors need to think of the Touch as a mobile purchasing device. Shopping, using a camera as ID and credit card verification system is a killer feature that Apple has neglected. An alternative to the Touch with localization and purchasing. Yeow.

      1. Player_16

        There's an App for that.

        Square -

  4. Anton Ivanov

    Finally, spot on

    That is also the exact reason why the iPhone delivers a superior user experience.

    The best example is Nokia. Their own phone OS upgrade page is written in Flash and it is _GUARANTEED_ to crash any symbian phone you view it on. Idiotism in the first degree. "Upgrade your phone over the air". Yeah, fine - if it bloody survives selecting the upgrade first. To add insult to injury the flash part which crashes all phones is a simple image based phone selection menu which anyone with two weeks experience in javascript could have written in 10 minutes.

    The same story repeats again and again and again with many other lousy flash websites. They had to be sanitised to work on iPhone use a sane amount of RAM and generally be stable and work. It is just a basic quality assurance provided by Apple as a part of the approval process. As a result idiotisms like using 192MB of RAM to display the weather forecast for you area or the aforementioned dancing hamsters can never make it. And guess what - the user loves it.

    So banning flash and java is one of the best things Apple ever did and it should continue to do so. It could not ban bad software engineers so it did the second best thing it could do. Quite successfully as well.

    1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  5. censored

    For once, Orlowski is probably right...

    But he also failed to mention another aspect: not everyone WANTS apps. Ok, we're all tech junkies. We've had email on our phones since it was tediously cumbersome.

    But my dad has a phone that can do it, but no data plan. He's never really considered it and doesn't have much interest in the mobile web. Same with my mum, who hasn't so much as used the camera on her (my old) N95.

    I discovered yesterday that my gadget-loving father-in-law has had an iPhone for a year, but never got around to setting up email on it.

    These people simply don't WANT apps. They might learn the benefits of mobile web or email, just about, but they won't bother changing their phones from whatever the default setup is. The smartphone explosion is leaking out of the tech-loving geeksphere and going mainstream to these people. And there's far more of them than there are of us....

  6. Spassmonkey

    Mobile commerce

    I've worked on the build and implementation of mobile-commerce stores for numerous global mobile network operators, as well as brands such as Yahoo and Skype. Some of these mobile storefronts were extremely advanced compared to the very limited functionality of the Apple App Store. Having studied user behaviours, analysed the stats, click-tracked users throughout the storefronts, and spent some months investigating point-of-sale techniques and tricks from the offline retail environments, I am quite surprised at the success of the Apple App Store. There are a number of key differences to this store compared to all the other offerings though:

    1. Billing the credit card - clear simple pricing model, and easy payment mechanism, already active for a huge majority of Apple fans, previously using iTunes

    2. Only 1 version of each product is required. Stocking a single game in, let's say, AT&T's storefront is much more complex. There are thousands of completely different devices hitting the same store, so you actually need hundreds, possibly thousands of bespoke versions of that game to ensure good handset support. Obviously, you don't want to list the same game thousands of times, so you need clever device detection logic, as well as a smart database to keep track of all the versions of the game. On top of that, you need to constantly backfill for new devices, and render the storefront itself differently for different devices. It's no mean feat. Already Android developers are complaining about 3 versions of the firmware... 3?! try hitting every phone in the market and 3 suddenly seems pretty straightforward.

    3. Following from point 2, the user of the Apple App Store is pretty much guaranteed that everything in that store will work on their phone. Users don't have the same feeling of assurance when entering a traditional mobile retail environment (even if it's actually there!)

    4. Smooth touchscreen browsing makes a HUGE difference. Most mobile-commerce sites have to focus on the first screenful or two of offered products. Even Apple app store is heavily biased towards the top 5 free, top 5 paid offering, with digging deeper a pain. If you have to click through these lists, then the 'deeper catalogue' is virtually never touched by users - meaning active management of the storefront is required to keep it fresh.

    5. Apple users don't buy music in the app store - this is expected via iTunes. Most mobile-commerce sites place music in all the top slots. With the hassle they've been through licensing content from record labels, and ingesting all of that in numerous formats (again to cover lots of device types) - it's only natural that it's given priority over apps. Back to point 4- anything pushed down the page, or onto a second/thrid/fourth page will rarely, if ever be seen by users - so limited number of applications (rather than music or personalisation products) are ever seen.

    6. Advertising! Apple advertised what apps could do - as well as the device itself. Hell, to get half the productivity tools/apps etc my Nokia E55 has out of the box on an iPhone would cost me a fortune and many hours scouring the app store. They don;t promote this though.

    My feeling is that Apple are very smart when it comes to keeping it simple. One size fits all.

  7. Doc Spock
    Jobs Halo

    Additional Reasons for Apple's Success

    I can think of a few additional reasons for Apple's success with their App Store:

    (not all of them are unique to Apple's App Store)

    1. A very small number of devices to target, and they all share the important features (i.e. many apps don't need to leverage the 'unique' bits like digital compass or GPS). But most importantly, the screen size and standard input methods are uniform across the range. This is generally the exact opposite of the situation with other app stores which aim to support every conceivable form of device going.

    2. Apps will seamlessly transfer to a new or upgraded iPhone, and between multiple devices that you may own. This makes it easy for people to, for example, transition from an iPod Touch to an iPhone. Again, this ease of transition is typically not the case with other mobile platforms.

    3. You don't need your phone to browse or buy apps.

    4. The iPod Touch. Consumers are more likely to have an iPod Touch for far longer than a mobile phone, therefore are more willing to invest in applications for it.

    5. The iPod Touch (again). I would argue that the vast majority of profit, success, appeal, etc. is due to the iPod Touch and not the iPhone. I have no proof to back this up though.

    For any app store to succeed, the vast majority of apps must be available for all supported devices, those apps must not be tied to a single device, and it should be unbelievable easy to browse and buy apps from anywhere. It also helps if you have a huge install base of supported devices.

  8. Richard 120

    I reckon it'll end badly

    If Apple become the only game in town they'll go the same way with the App store and OS that MS did. They'll be the new target of choice. Diversity keeps the industry going, if MS OS were not so prevalent there wouldn't be anywhere near the quantity of viruses for it, hence more people turning to other OS's.

    Apple become the dominant force in mobile phones, they become the target.

    We'll see how they do.

  9. dave 93

    What we want, when we want it, preferably for free

    This article is 180 degrees out. People really do want software doo-dads for pennies.

    There are so many more customers now, that software doesn't need to be expensive to make a profit. Distribution is key, and easy access 'app stores' are the future.

    Nice to see we can comment on Orlovski pieces again ;-)

  10. Disco-Legend-Zeke
    Thumb Up

    What Operators Need... a community.

    By setting up an app(le) store, The Jobsian have demonstrated the value added by having their own "Works With Windows" stickers for software makers to affix to their boxes. In similar fashion, phone makers and their carriers serve the consumer by testing products and offering them in "company stores."

    Of note is that Apple does not make judgements as to the utility of a script, or quality of crepatation in the fart files. The only excess is blocking all nonapproved apps, which may deprive them of utilities that increase sales.

    Having sponsored applications is community building, something every vendor should bring to the table. As finger-to-plane replaces mouse, and function replaces novelty, it is the depth of application the ultimately drives device sales.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More of the me-tooism that bedevils the industry

    We present a brief insight into the mind of the average mobile phone marketing manager:

    "Hey, that guy's making loads of money from flip-phones! Quick, rush out some flip-phones!"

    "Hey, that guy's making loads of money from external speakers so kids can annoy people on buses with something that almost sounds like music! Quick, bolt on some external speakers! And some shitty low-bitrate music! No, I don't have a long-term plan for the infrastructure necessary to look after users' purchases in the future."

    "Hey, that guy's making loads of money from annoying ringtones! Quick, make some annoying ringtones!"

    "Hey, that guy's making loads of money from multitouch! Quick, glue some multitouch on! No, I don't care if it suits the paradigms of our operating system, or even understand any part of that sentence, we're not making money from this!"

    "Innovation? That's what happens when you bolt on the next new technology and get the kids to upgrade, right? Right?"

  12. Colin_L

    control is a convenient side effect.

    Everyone says that companies hate Flash because it dominates web audio/video content, and certainly it does, despite Silverlight and innumerable lesser wannabees.

    But there's a genuine problem with Flash; it requires a tremendous amount of processing power. Which makes it slow and battery-hungry. If flash animations can bring old computers to a standstill and give netbooks pause, then they will surely clobber your average smartphone available today-- or in particular, the phone from 2-3 years ago when these decisions were first made.

    That is the one technical, rather than administrative, reason that the Apples and Googles of the world won't give you a mobile version of Flash. It can't reasonably be done. I'm not sure this argument holds water when you start talking about spanking-new devices that have 1ghz Arm processors and especially if they have hardware graphics acceleration. *ahem*

    1. Renato


      > If flash animations can bring old computers to a standstill and give netbooks pause, then they will surely clobber your average smartphone available today-- or in particular, the phone from 2-3 years ago when these decisions were first made.

      Old computers my arse! A Core2 Duo playing a flash video will reach 100% CPU usage easily (not quite 100% but you get my point). Even a 1 GHz ARM processor based device would suffer with Flash. Not because of processing power, it has plenty of, but a smartphone isn't designed to run with the CPU at 100% forever. It is designed to run with the CPU idling most of the time.

      And remember, radio usage eats lots of battery. When you add radio + CPU @ 100% because of some useless flash thingy and the device lasts for some 2 hours before being fed from the mains again, you'll understand why Apple/Google/Microsoft/etc doesn't bundle Flash with their mobile OSes.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Arguably it can be reasonably done

      but Adobe's had no real incentive to do so until now, hence their stalling tactics on HTML5 and the upcoming "port your Flash to iPhone" in CS5 while they scramble to fix Flash

  13. zunguri

    Some good points but...

    if concepts such as "Business model", "Sustainability" and "Platform" are confusing for you it might be a good idea to take a business course or three and get comfortable with them. They are buzzwords only to people who should not be using them.

  14. James Katt

    Apple is simply SMARTER than other companies

    Apple is simply smarter than other companies.

    Apple also GOES THE EXTRA MILE to connect with media companies so that its users will have a great selection.

    Apple also GOES THE EXTRA MILE to design their products so well, users feel immediately empowered and comfortable and at ease when using their devices.

    Apple also GOES THE EXTRA MILE to create an ecosystem for its products. Competitors do not realize that they have to create an ecosystem to compete with Apple. They also realize how difficult an ecosystem is to create. Apple is the only manufacturer that can so far create an ecosystem. Every one else makes parts of one, but not the whole. Only Apple can create the hardware AND the software AND the music, movies, podcasts, books and other media AND the platform FOR Third Party hardware and software that connect to each other and have Apple's computers as the hub.

    You cannot compete against Apple unless you can create the entire widget. Apple is THE ONLY COMPANY that can create the WHOLE WIDGET.

  15. Tom 35

    most people in the mobile industry don't want to see it that way

    Mobile operators want stuff that they can charge a monthly fee for. They thought they would make a killing on TV on the phone, just put a couple of crap channels and charge $15 a month. Add video calling, that was going to make a big bag of money.

    They change their cell phone line-up more often then their underwear. Once they move on to the next new thing forget getting any new aps or even an upgrade to the buggy hacked OS.

    Apple don't let the carrier hack up the phones software so you can always get the latest upgrade and you can keep your aps when you upgrade to a new apple phone and you don't have to worry about the carrier having any useful aps. You only need the carrier to supply you with airtime and data. So people with an apple phone are more likely to want another apple phone and not whatever free phone the carrier is pushing this month when the contract runs out.

    Microsoft seems to be copying Apple, if it works for them will Nokia be next?

  16. dogged
    Thumb Up

    obscure link

    The direct link to Colly Myers' piece is

    Highly recommended.

  17. Obvious Robert
    Jobs Horns

    I know you hate Google but...

    To just dismiss Android in the article beggars belief. The Android Market now has over 10,000 apps. Ok, not yet in the same 100K league as Apple's app store, but certianly nowhere near failure.

    Re the user comments about the Apple's model making it easy to move your apps to your new phone when you upgrade... let's get this straight, you're trumpeting that it's really easy to upgrade from your iPhone to... an iPhone. Wow. Excuse me while I wet myself. I'm typing this on my venerable G1 via Newsrob (Google Reader app). When it's time to upgrade, I could choose a Droid (Milestone over here), Nexus One, Cliq, LG InTouch, Pulse, Moment, HTC Hero, Legend, Desire etc etc etc, all very different phones, but get this... the same app will work with all of them.

    Apple's model is a closed system that basically has 4 iterations of the same device to support, Touch and iPhones 1, 2 & 3. Android is a genuine ecosystem that gives a user an easy upgrade path but still allowing them choice. Something Apple users will never get.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Java Dope ??

    "But to extend the argument to Java? really? It has a chequered history certainly, but in recent years it's really come into it's own, being able to execute as fast as native code, whilst allowing developers to concentrate on actual developing rather than more debugging and tedious otherwise unnecessary code writing that unmanaged languages require.

    Shutting Java out of a mobile platform is really an insanely stupid move in the long run. Developers aren't going to develop in Objective C which is in itself an obscure language and only focus on the iPhone if they can develop in Java and have access to every other single phone OS out there from Android to Windows Mobile to RIM's OS to PalmOS all from one codebase."

    Are you on LSD ? Or is it the psychotic effects of reading Javadoc ?

    All my programming with Java on the client yielded slow, ugly memory hogs. A simple application with a couple of forms and simple input validation eating 200MB RAM. Java Applets that use UDP Sockets crash the browser. Java2ME being an assortment of varying bugs depending on the handset. Nobody fixing bugs after years.

    Java is nowhere near native performance, for systematic reasons like the GC and the inability to allocate objects and arrays on the stack. Put this thing into the trashbin and go for something proven like ObjectiveC.

  19. LTE

    A view from the States


    Your two recent articles;

    1. Only Apple can get away with App Stores

    2. Smoke free Nokia looks for a spark. Pleasing people who never pay for anything. Will this work?

    Your articles have brought about some interesting thoughts. Being an avid Apple PC & iPhone user, and a wireless executive for the past 18 years I have some differing opinions.

    First, your comments on the Ovi strategy from Niklas and perceived miscues of offering free applications or content. Let us quickly revisit the early days of the Internet. You do remember AOL charging $39.95 to $49.95 a month for their service back in 1996 and onward? Every analyst and observer noted AOL’s huge content or for that matter “killer apps” like email and IM and that no one could possible usurp AOL’s position or strategy. By 1998, 1999 they had “first mover advantage”, they had amassed 80 million subs. Well today AOL can’t even charge $4.95 for their “content or apps”. My children can get it all free from likes of Yahoo, Google, MSN and so on. Today when teenagers have to pay for apps or content online, they seemingly find a way to get it for free. Eventually the free model or pay next to nothing devours the pay model when the two exist in the same market place. The wireless market place will be no different it will only happen much quicker. No one enterprise, carrier or manufacture has a lock on content & apps. You also comment on bottom up strategy for services and Nokia’s lack of bottom up strategy. Interesting… Yet in 1993 at BellSouth meetings they told us that wireless subs would pass land line subs, everyone laughed. In 1996 they said sms texting would not only take off but have a hockey stick curve explosion, we laughed and said it’s a European thing Americas like to talk. In 1999, they said we will put the internet in everyone’s pocket, right... We all know what happen with those examples. Did Apple create a device that made putting the Internet in your pocket a reality? You bet, I carry one and have no complaints. But to dismiss Nokia’s strategy is foolish, not only are they moving where the market will be in the coming years but they are doing it aggressively with a bottom up approach such Nokia Mail and Messaging for the 3.2 billion subs that don’t have a PC or internet connection. Here, we have some 40 million plus subs that don’t have banking access, Nokia Money or a competitive product would be wonderful.

    Only Apple can get away with Apps stores? Because they banned flash and Java from their ecosystem? Rather flimsy, maybe they also created a truly turnkey user friendly mobile store front with compelling content for starters. Yet again, to see only Apple as being capable is short sited as were journalist and analyst whom declared no one else can amass AOL’s content, apps and sub base. We all know how that turned out. Thanks for the light hearted reading Andrew.

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