The Mobile App Store Wars Heat Up

During the past couple of years, mobile device manufacturers including Apple, Microsoft, Nokia, and RIM have deployed mobile application stores. Applications available in these stores are primarily consumer focused including games, music, news, and entertainment - but many applications are emerging that help business users. Work related application examples include PDF document readers, expense report viewers, and productivity enhancing applications for LOB workers such as medical decision-support tools and ECG-reading applications for doctors and nurses in healthcare. Mobile app stores will have a significant impact on business users, and by the end of 2010 we predict 30% of employees will download at least one application from an app store onto smartphones they use for work. These mobile workers will primarily be from SMB organizations and mobile wannabe employees who want to improve their productivity.

Adding fuel to the mobile app store fire is the formation of the Wholesale Applications Community, which was announced at last week’s Mobile World Congress. This applications community is composed of 24 worldwide mobile service carriers including AT&T, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, NTT Docomo, Orange, Sprint, Telefonica, Verizon Wireless, and Vodafone; device manufacturers including LG, Samsung and Sony Ericsson; and the GSMA. The wholesale app community will compete directly with proprietary app stores including the Apple App Store, BlackBerry App World, and Nokia’s Ovi Store, which only support applications developed for their specific mobile operating system. The goal of the Wholesale Applications Community is to give developers the ability to write a single mobile application that will run on multiple mobile device operating systems.

The biggest challenge facing the Wholesale Applications Community is determining how to unify the many different operating platforms and mobile operators participating in this initiative. Many of these mobile operators and groups are in direct competition with each other and it will be difficult to get agreement on usage specifications and requirements. In addition, there will be increased competition between proprietary app stores to try to incent application developers to create mobile applications for their specific smartphone device OS. To capture the attention of developers  and encourage application creation, some app stores will increase the revenue share for developers. Also, to address the increasing use of these apps stores among business users, mobile app stores must make it easier to identify business-oriented applications by streamlining the browsing process and developing separate menus for business applications.

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