All of the fighting has resulted in multiple casualties. BlackBerry couldn't keep up the pace and was eventually chopped off at the knees. Microsoft has yet to gain enough developer volume to be a real threat and will eventually reinvent itself as a new company under new leadership. Third-party app stores are distributed and nimble but really amount to nothing more than splinter groups using guerrilla tactics against the major nation states. They just can't compete in the long term.
In the United States, Google Play and Apple iTunes have become the two superpowers in the mobile app war. With exceptional mobile application uptake, these two players have come to dominate the consumer mobile space. Phones don't sell phones. . .applications sell phones, and these two players have won.
More often than not, people refer to 2007 and the launch of the iPhone as the key milestone that changed forever the mobile industry. Despite an incredible device, Apple struggled the first few months because its business model relied on sharing revenues with telecom operators instead of letting them subsidize its smartphones. The key milestone was in fact July 2008 and the launch of the Apple App Store because it symbolized a new era: the shift from hardware to software in the mobile industry.
While Apple was not the first app marketplace, it is fair to say it created the App economy. 5 years and 50 billion downloads later, where do we stand?
App Stores: A Unique Opportunity To Engage Consumers Directly
Ask console gaming companies what they think of disruption created by app stores (now a generic term following the end of the “app store” name lawsuit between Apple and Amazon) and you’ll get a sense of what the app economy is. We’re scratching the surface of changes to come but clearly the app economy enables brands (including those who do not have a retail presence) to get insights on consumer behaviors to create new products and to distribute them at much lower cost. Numerous consumer app stores have flourished (more than 70 different Android-based app stores in China!) but few are really succeeding. Google Play has surpassed the Apple App Store when it comes to the sheer number of available apps and both have surpassed 50 billion downloads leaving competitors in the dust. However, volume does not matter so much any more. This is all about usage, personalization and recommendation.
At Google I/O, the company managed to impress on a lot of fronts, enough that its stock began to climb as investors realized that Google is keeping up with — and in some cases, staying in front of — its digital platform competitors Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft. The new developer tools and resources announced will certainly lead to better apps, be developed more quickly, and be capable of generating more revenue. And consumer experiences in mobile, Google Maps, and the browser are about to get significantly more useful and elegant.
But one announcement debuted at I/O that doesn’t move the needle for Google — at least not as much as it could have — is the Google Play Music All Access pass. Despite the convoluted moniker, the service is straightforward: Pay $9.99 a month (in the US for now, more countries to come), and you’ll have unlimited access to a cloud-based music library with intuitive features that allow elegant discovery, consumption, and sharing of music.
If it sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The service can’t differentiate on its music library because the best it can do is license the same library that Spotify and Rdio already offer. All Access also creates playlists for you based on your music tastes as expressed by you directly or learned from your listening patterns and friends. That should also sound familiar because the same value is contained to various degrees in Pandora, iTunes, and Amazon Cloud Player.
Bottom line: Despite working really hard, the best that Google can do in music is to catch up to everybody else in the field. And that’s precisely what the company has done.
AppGratis is a French app promotion and discovery platform startup that was recently ejected from the App Store on the grounds that it violated Apple’s developer T&Cs. Back in September 2012, Apple tweaked its developer guidelines, adding a clause that states: “Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected.”
Simon Dawlat, the CEO of AppGratis, shares his vision in great detail here and explains why he thinks the ban is totally unfair. Even France’s digital industry minister, Fleur Pellerin, has spoken up in support of AppGratis, describing Apple’s actions as ”extremely brutal, unilateral, and without explanation,” and calling on Cupertino to “behave ethically.“ Natasha Lomas at TechCrunch fairly and exhaustively summarizes the whole story here.
Without going into the legal details here, one may argue that there is a blurring of the line between app discovery and app promotion. I personally viewed AppGratis as a traffic booster based on curated app discovery experiences. I think it definitely helped gain some initial visibility in app stores, but I think app developers and publishers still needed to measure the customer lifetime value and make sure their audiences would stay engaged.
Anyway, the AppGratis controversy highlights the growing dependency from publishers and developers to Apple and Google in the app economy.