There was a lot of buzz last week when Apple announced that there now more than 100,000 applications in iPhone App Store, and more than two billion apps downloaded. Those are impressive numbers. A former Palm executive recently told me that in the heyday of Palm OS, two thirds of users never installed a third party app and the average "power user" installed around ten. That averages out to about two apps per device -- a pretty low number compared to most iPhone users, even novice users.
But that's only part of the story. A few months ago, I discussed the viability of multiple mobile OS platforms and how it's not likely that they all will survive long term, and one big reason Apple's platform looks better and better is entertainment apps. Looking at my own device, once you get past the three core apps I use all the time (Mail, Tweetie, and Byline, a Google Reader app), the bulk of my hundred plus apps are all entertainment related -- and most of them aren't available on any other platform.
When you look at the out-of-the-box experience of most smartphones today, they're all pretty good when it comes to basics. Email, web browsing, personal information management, and voice are all acceptable. What's missing are the applications and experience that make up mobile entertainment. Media and content consumption are one core pillar. Games are another.
Media is important to mobility, and according to our research, the iPhone leads the competition by wide margin when it comes to consumers who purchase phones looking to listen to music and watch video. This makes sense, as the most popular media player on the market is the iPod and the iPhone is the only phone with the iPod experience built in. That means users can sync all their content seamlessly, and sync is important. I personally have no desire to troll through thousands of songs trying to re-create my playlists using drag and drop. Other platforms pale by comparison, with Android lagging behind most notably -- Google's OS has no native media sync support at all. Platform providers who aren't thinking of media and content sync are going to miss the
100,000 apps is impressive but it's not the number that matters -- it's the ability for consumers to use their devices for play as well as for work.
Games are the second pillar of entertainment and Apple's been successful in making the iPhone / iPod Touch a real gaming platform. The iPhone now boasts the best collection of games for any mobile platform, and game developer after developer tells me that they're not even looking at most other platforms -- or they're porting one or two titles to dip their toe in the water. Part of it is platform capability -- the Blackberry simply can't deliver the same type of gaming experience as the iPhone -- but in other cases it's about market penetration or platform fragmentation. Several developers tell me they're avoiding Android because the platform is too fragmented to make the investment: there are different versions of the OS being sold, on hardware with different screen sizes and resolutions. Games are going to critical to any platform's success and the ability to sign up first rate developers and get exclusive content is going to be key to long-term survival.
100,000 apps is impressive but it's not the number that matters -- it's the depth and quality of those applications and the ability for consumers to use their devices for play as well as for work. If platform providers don't start focusing on high quality entertainment experiences soon, we may see some platforms fading even sooner than I might have thought.
Michael Gartenberg is vice president of strategy and analysis at Interpret, LLC. His weblog can be found at gartenblog.net, and he can be emailed at gartenberg AT gmail DOT com. Views expressed here are his own.