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Just how many apps are out there?

Recently, we stated that companies like Google and HTC won’t be able to make up the difference in the amount of apps available (compared to those available in the AppStore for the iPhone) on their phone platforms even if they gave the phones away. It generated a very interesting and reasoned discussion with a commenter named “bloknayrb” on Gizmodo as to why this “would or would not” be so.

Our position was there were only so many “real” developers out there working on mobile apps. New entrants with their own SDKs will just dilute the remaining available development resources and divide up the share of the market not dominated by the iPhone. This is the true “first mover’s” advantage.  It is not that “first movers” are necessarily better, but they have “locked up” the development resources. The committed development resources may be “redistributed” only IF a “killer feature” appears on a minor platform. This can be some kind of hardware, software, or operational advantage which cannot be replicated on the dominant platform. We don’t see on any of that on any of the second tier players at present.

Unless there is a strong compelling reason to port to minor platforms, the payback will be too little. Supporting two platforms means the amount of work (engineering, QA, etc…) just doubled. It is not a scalable strategy for small or even mid-size development teams.

A point was made that there are “no limits” on available development resources and developers are “born everyday.” We would argue that just the opposite is true. There is exactly that…there is a limit pool of “real” developers are out there (those doing real apps for real money). They are the ones who have already made a commitment to a “device.” As to “developer being born every day”… potential ones, yes. The problem with writing software is the same as with writing a novel…anyone CAN do it, but clearly not enough and never of those who actually does it well.

The real world case is the WinTel platform. Most of the developers in the world are WinTel programmers. More software started showing up on the Mac only when OSX shifted to Unix OS and the Intel CPU. Even though the tools and frameworks could arguably be said to be hugely superior on the Mac for years, with no real sizable market (for the companies looking to make money) there were few incentives for commited professional developers to change and support it. There were awesome products on the Mac, but looking at overall revenue of the entire software market, the Mac platform was a rounding error.

Palm had a stranglehold on the PDA market and was able to fend off Compaq’s iPaq and a host of others. They dominated the PDA market until the Blackberry came out with the phone capability. Palm did not move quick enough to counter and has never recovered. If the iPhone came to market without the AppStore, it would never have taken over…it would have been just another phone. Now that it has a huge developer support, it has the mass and with that, the inertia to roll over anything in its path.

The iPhone will dominate until a new entrant show up with something so compelling that it will actually siphon away developers FROM the iPhone market. With the head start Apple has, no current platform will catch up. We are not saying that NO other phones can be successful against the iPhone, just none of the current ones. We fully hope that Google and others will keep trying as this is the only motivation which will push Apple to try and stay ahead. However, for any App developer hoping to MAKE MONEY, the iPhone marketplace is the only one worth the time and effort at present….and the foreseeable future.

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