App Stores keep raining on my head

t’s appropriate that Take That should have released their song ‘The Flood’ because that is exactly what’s about to happen with the app Stores. Several months ago, I read an article by Vision Mobile(I always like their insights) entitled mobile megatrends on the future of app stores , saying that there will be over 100 app stores in 2012. This is rapidly coming true. Just in the past couple of weeks we’ve seen announcements from a mix of OEMs, brands and others including acer alive,amazonhtcmozilla & dell. Throw in all the ones that already exist such as Getjar, SlideME,, Ovi, Samsung Funclub, Handango and Vodafone 360 and it paints a picture of a dizzying array of stores for consumer to choose from.

I’m really not sure what to make of this because App Stores are all about making discovery easier so there is a certain irony in the fact that app stores themselves will actually become harder to discover as time goes on. The reality is that embedding an app store on a device is the number one way to find out its there in the first place. In fact any kind of embed is likely to be the holy grail of most content providers: games have consistently shown something like  a 20% conversion rate from free to premium when the demos used to be embedded on J2ME devices (yes, remember J2ME, when the operators controlled it all and companies spent thousands porting to over 4000 devices…but let’s not got there right now.)

What’s going to follow next is an almighty bun fight, as different app store owners fight to get their stores promoted on the home screen of most media tablets and  mobiles. Just to be clear, we’re mostly talking about Android here; Apple has things nicely locked down on their devices, as does Nokia with Ovi. The OEM’s will put their own stores on their devices and then the carriers (desperately clinging on to any kind of control or revenue stream) will then throw their toys out of the pram and delete the OEM app stores from branded carrier devices so that the likes of Verizon, Vodafone and Orange will then happily put their stores on the handsets next to Android’s own market. Whilst the OEMs are battling it out with the carriers, carriers will send out all their unlocked handsets into channel with multiple embedded app stores from whoever has persuaded them with a big enough kickback. On top of this we’ll then see specialist app stores appearing (such as adult app store Mikandi) alongside the generalist app stores to confuse the customer even further. Now we’re just waiting for the big media owners to launch their own walled gardens, from NewsCorp through to Disney, and I’ll even bet my pants that Nike have something up their sleeve.

Is this all good for the consumer? Well yes and no. Choice increases, as does the availability of better billing as the carrier app stores will feature direct billing which most customer have stated in a recent Netsize report is a must. In most cases, the inadequacy of Google to provide good billing in key territories has forced many people to integrate Paypal and carrier billing as viable alternatives. In addition to billing there is simply the question of quality control. Apple’s App Store works because it has a rigorous entry and approval process and a diligent merchandising team. Even the might Google has singularly failed to present a decent retailing environment with a store packed full of free junk and rip offs – this week alone I saw a blatant IP violation called Connect 4 in the top 10 of the free games – this was not the official Hasbro product.  Who’s to say any of the others will do a better job, although one has some faith?

The greater range of app stores is also good and bad for app developers. Whilst their ability to make money increases, so does the sheer challenge of getting noticed. Apple has over 300k apps live and Android Market has over 100k. The other stores will rapidly fill up and the average developer will find it harder and harder to get  their app noticed which means that the days of a small start-up developer self-publishing and then getting seen are numbered. A new breed of mobile publishers are emerging who need to invest in Marketing and PR campaigns utilising a plethora of tricks to get the apps rocketing up the app stores and that’s only a part of it because then you have to get it to stay there.

Batten down the hatches and get the umbrellas out, ‘cos this flood is only going to get worse.

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