The App Store launched on 10 July 2008, followed by the iPhone 3G the next day. With 800 apps available for download, by 14 July – just 3 days later, over 10 million apps had been downloaded. A phenomenal take-up by any measure.
This success has continued, with 35,000 apps and 1 billion downloads by 23 April 2009. Latest figures (from 27 October 2009) are 100,000 apps and over 2 billion downloads. An AdMob study of 1,000 mobile phone users suggests that iPhone users download 10 apps per month and that iTouch users download 18 apps per month. Such figures are simply stunning and suggest that a completely new market is in the making.
While many of these apps are free, they are often commercial in purpose. For example, at 63336 we have been developing a Java ME app for the 63336 service, which we are launching today. An iPhone app is on the way and should be available by early December. The app allows a customer to ask a question of 63336, to see their question history, to see our daily top 5 questions & answers and to see what we call the 63336 Buzz. 63336 Buzz is made up of short articles highlighting the questions customers of the 63336 service are asking each day. It lets you see what’s on the mind of the nation.
New App Stores proliferate
Unsurprisingly, the result of Apple’s success has been a flurry of App Stores launched by the rest of the mobile phone industry. For example, network operators: Orange, O2 and Vodafone; software platform providers: Symbian with Symbian OS, Sun with Java ME, Google with Android and Microsoft with Windows Mobile; mobile phone manufacturers: Samsung, Sony Ericsson, LG, RIM, Palm and Nokia. And still more to come.
The problem with all of this is that none of these App Stores are really addressing the needs of the app developers. As commercial organisations, developers want to address the largest possible market for the least cost. The target demographic is customers of all the network operators using any mobile phone.
One increasing problem is the proliferation of software platforms: iPhone/iTouch with a special version of Mac OS X, Windows Mobile, Android, Symbian and Java ME, amongst others. However, Java ME has significant market penetration, probably well in excess of 50% of all UK mobile phones. With iPhone sales approaching 3 million in the UK, the market for Java ME apps is at least 10 times bigger. This represents a terrific market opportunity that exists right now.
It’s marketing, stupid
Currently, if a developer wants to market their Java ME application to the widest possible demographic, they would have to make it available on the O2, Orange and Vodafone App Stores at the very least. As Three and T-Mobile do not have App Stores, it would probably be necessary to do Nokia’s Ovi App Store and RIM’s App Store as well. So that would be five different submissions, and then, every time the App was updated, another five submissions. Very costly in time and effort, especially in maintaining a commercial relationship with five App Stores.
However, just making your application available on App Stores is not even a tenth of the battle. To paraphrase Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan, “it’s marketing, stupid”. That’s right, you now have to market the application. As the iPhone app developers are finding, it is not much fun when there are 100,000 applications listed. With so many apps available, there are typically 10 or 20 variants for every kind of app and the volume of apps is still growing steadily. You will need marketing to persuade customers to download and use your application.
Marketing is already terrifically expensive, without being made more so by the proliferation of App Stores. It is hard enough developing a single marketing campaign without having to target it to 5 different App Stores. Even if you run national marketing campaigns, it will still be expensive, because you are paying to reach a much broader audience than your target demographic.
A single App Store for Java ME apps
What developers require is a single App Store providing Java ME apps that will reach all the customers of all network operators using a mobile phone that can run Java ME. Developers would have a single marketplace from which to promote their applications, and a single commercial relationship. Customers would need only to go to one location to find and download applications. All of which would reduce friction in developing a substantial Java ME app market that could potentially dwarf the Apple App Store.
This situation is very similar to when SMS was first available. Initially, each network operator restricted SMS traffic to its own network, limiting the market for their customers to communicate with mobile phone users on other networks. Again network operators were focused on their own requirements and not on the requirements of the wider market. As soon as the agreements were made which allowed cross-network SMS traffic, SMS took off and has not stopped growing since.
The mobile industry has an excellent track record of working together to create and grow markets. GSM and SMS are good examples of that cooperation. There is a great opportunity for the mobile market to work together to produce a single App Store. In particular we are looking to Virgin, Three, TMobile, Orange, Vodafone and O2 to all get together and create a single App Store for Java ME applications.
There is more to this story on applications. Look out for further instalments, which will be on dealing with the complexities of multiple mobile phone form factors, and why the network operators didn’t really want their customers to run applications on their phones.