COMMENT: Apple's App Store shows the way for mobile phones

So the launch has happened, the iPhone App Store is live and taking orders but should we care? Reading around the web, it seems if you are a developer, yes, you should.

Apple has shown that people want apps, people want to personalise their phones, and more importantly if you make it easy, people will happily add applications to their mobile at the press of a button.

Why? Because it makes the phone into something more useful - and more personal - to them - be it a game, weather reports, or Facebook tools - all of a sudden you can make the phone do more than just be a device for making a phone call.

I acknowledge that applications for mobile phones have been around for ages. Regardless of what mobile you've got, you've probably got Google Maps installed on your phone, maybe the odd game, or if you've got a smartphone with GPS perhaps even TomTom software.

But what makes the App Store so interesting is that it has made it so much easier to shop for and buy an application, download it and start using it - all without getting lost in a sea of websites and install guides.

The week started with an announcement from Apple suggesting that in just 3 days 10 million apps had been downloaded by owners of the iPhone, iPhone 3G or iPod touch, anyone with iPhone 2.0 software in fact.

Based on official figures from Apple there are roughly 7 million iPhones in consumer's hands (6 million 1st gen, 1m 3G). If you discount the iPod touch figures (as they haven't been separated from iPod sales, plus you have to pay to upgrade to the 2.0 software), that's more than one app per person.

Chances are there is some strong novelty factor and it is interesting to note that Apple hasn't announced figures as to how many of those were paid-for apps over free ones (especially as they are taking 30% off the top), however, it does suggest that people are seriously interested.

According to Fraser Speirs, the developer of the Exposure App for Flickr on the iPhone, his two applications have been downloaded on average 3200 times a day for the first 5 days the App Store has been live, twice as many users as the FlickrExport tool for Aperture, even though that's been available for considerably longer.

So are we likely to see other mobile manufacturers making App Stores available in the same way? HTC has said that while it likes the idea there are no plans just yet.

Nokia and Sony Ericsson, neither of whom have announced specific plans, would be best suited to compete. Both companies are already shifting to a more software, as well as hardware, model with Nokia pushing the hardest with its Ovi platform for games, music and GPS.

Then there is Google's Android platform that will also see app support built in from the get go - it is an open platform after all, despite the news this week that the latest version of the SDK has been inexplicably restricted to just the 50 winners from its recent developer competition.

Hardware is important, but as we are now in a mobile marketplace where competition is tough with all but the low-end phones fairly fully-featured, it might well be the applications - the frosting to the hardware's cake, if you will - that sell devices in the coming months and years.

Apple has got a great head start on this market, with over 500 applications available on launch - and over 800 live now. Google, with Android, and the hardware members of the OHA could really make the most of this new interest in phone personalisation, but they need to launch their platform - and version of the App Store, soon - and with just as much ease of use and variety as Apple has to make it a success.

With help from Amy-Mae Elliott.


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