The iTunes app store – in fact, the only app store officially called the “App Store” – will be one year old this weekend. Most people have seen it in one shape or other – usually that of a pint of beer – if they haven’t used it and one of the first things I did as soon as I tried the iPhone for the very first time was to download as many free apps as I could.
That was about two weeks ago now and out of the 42 I chose, I still use four, namely Skype, Twitterfon, Facebook and Last.fm and these are by no means unique to the iPhone. In fact there are plenty of phones without app stores that have native access to these programs. So, I’m beginning to wonder, is there really a point in 95% of the apps out there or is the App Store just a large, cheap, tacky bag of nonsense novelty?
There were 50,000 different apps available for the iPhone and Touch at last count on 8th June. That compares as 10 times more than their nearest rival, the Android Marketplace, and I’d bet you could probably find the same actually useful software on both, as well as a world of dross.
The vast majority of all the software is games and most of those are the kinds of things with the shortest of interest spans ranging from the addictive and well put together Paper Toss to the utterly inane Finger Sprint which only requires one go before you’ve had enough.
The fact remains, though, that neither is going to be on your handset for very long. So, yes, I’d really say that, as far as the user’s concerned, there’s very little in the App Store that really makes it worth having at all. What I would suggest, though, is that although it’s pure novelty for us, it’s absolutely key to the iPhone’s and Apple’s success.
First, and most obviously, Apple makes a nice little profit on the App Store at what I can only imagine are some pretty low overheads. In fact, admin and enforcement of the rigorous App Store rules and the sending out of rejection letters are probably as expensive as it gets for them.
In return for their pains, they pick up a fee of $99/year for every developer who purchases the SDK ($299/year if they happen to go for the deluxe package) and a further 30% of every download. Now, actually, that’s not a vast amount of money for a multi-national like Apple. It’s certainly a tidy little earner but I doubt it’s a major part of their fiscal plans; not compared to sales of the handsets in the first place, thought to bring them $600 or so each. A million sales of the iPint may have earned Apple $300,000 but that’s nothing compared to the amount they made on the handsets that downloaded them.
Where the App Store really does work for Apple is as an excellent advertisement for their hardware. The novelty apps may only be on your phone for a week or two but how many people see your little fun game during that time and begin to think about getting an iPhone for themselves? How many people look over your shoulder on the Tube and see not only how entertaining it looks but also how well the hardware works, how smooth that touchscreen is? More apps mean more interactivity, more time with your phone spent out of your pocket and more time on display for all to see and covet.
Each app is a little advert for Apple and, when they work, they not only make Jobs Inc a lot of money but also spread that mobile advert even further a field to hundreds more potential customers. It’s wonderfully viral, offering more dividends than any web based campaign ever did and much better conversion rates no doubt.
And, of course, once you’ve got the iPhone, you’re in the family. It’s a very short step from a handset to a laptop. Well, you might as well enjoy that walled garden once you’ve gone inside and when you’ve got your most often used point of digital access in the Mac way of doing things, you probably ought to complete the picture with Apple TV and wherever else your new found trust and appreciation takes you.
In fairness to the App Store, there are still plenty of applications that are good and useful but they are few and far between. Below that, there’s a tier of one’s that are good for a while – such as Wimbledon update programs etc – and then there’s the sea of inanity. So, I’d say that for the consumer, it is a pile of novelty nonsense but at the tip of that pile is the cherry on the crap cake.
That cherry is probably the same as the one that sits atop much smaller pastries like the Android Marketplace, BlackBerry App World and even Ovi once it sorts its issues out. Where the App Store can go to lift itself from the novelty is as a home of serious games, the likes of which could tempt you away from the DSi and the PSP.
For Apple, though, there’s nothing remotely nonsensical about the App Store. In fact, it’s probably the very key to expanding their market beyond their own fan base and the first time since the iPod that made serious in roads into Microsoft’s market. It’ll be interesting to see how it and their Apple’s reach develops if they do decide to go after Playstation and Nintendo.