Stage Set for Mobile App Store Battle

By Bob Violino

 

The market for mobile application stores is heating up, with companies such as Research In Motion (RIM), Google Inc., Microsoft and Nokia joining Apple Computer Inc. with new portals from which users can access hundreds of new applications designed for specific mobile device platforms.

 

A key question for technology executives is what value, if any, do these app stores provide to business users? So far, experts say, the usefulness for business appears to be limited. But with the influx of new players in the market, the number of business applications might increase.

 

"Having many different companies supporting mobile application stores will expand the variety and range of business applications because developers focusing on a particular type of device/operating system will be drawn to using a central site as a distribution channel for their applications," says Michele Pelino, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "This centralized location will provide business users with access to a wide variety of applications designed for their particular mobile device in the store."

 

There's been no shortage of activity in the mobile app store market in recent months. Apple in July 2008 launched the iPhone App Store with 500 different applications, and within the first week of operation iPhone and iPod users had made more than 10 million downloads, according to the company.

 

Developers have created a slew of mobile applications for Apple devices, including games, location-based social networking programs, medical applications and enterprise productivity tools. According to an Apple spokeswomen, some 15,000 applications are available in the store and to date users have downloaded 500 million applications.

 

Other vendors have jumped into the market. Research in Motion (RIM) in October 2008 announced two major distribution initiatives for smartphone applications for its BlackBerry handheld, including an online store called BlackBerry Application Storefront and an application center. RIM began accepting applications and content from developers for inclusion in the storefront in December and the store is scheduled to launch this month.

 

The storefront will allow developers to set their own prices for applications. RIM is working with PayPal, an online payment service, to provide consumers with a way to pay for applications from BlackBerry smartphones. RIM says it is also working with its carrier partners to provide carrier-customized, on-device application centers to help foster after-market application downloads.

 

Next: Google Moves Forward with Android Market


{mospagebreak title=Google Moves Forward with Android Market}

Google in October 2008 launched Android Market, an app store for its Android cell phone operating system platform that enables users to download applications along with the first Android-powered phone, the T-Mobile G1. Users can rate the apps they've downloaded and leave comments on the site. Google says the ratings, along with anonymous usage statistics, will help determine how apps are ranked and presented within Android Market.

 

In February, Google announced that the store had begun accepting priced applications from U.S. and U.K. developers, in addition to free programs. Developers from those countries can upload their applications along with pricing for the applications. Google says it will enable developers in Germany, Austria, Netherlands, France, and Spain to offer priced applications before the end of March. Applications available on Android Market include multimedia, location-based tools, barcode scanners, travel guides and games.

 

Microsoft Corp. at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February launched new Windows phones as well as Windows Marketplace for Mobile, an application store that will provide direct-to-phone mobile apps and can be accessed from both the phone and the Web.

 

Microsoft says the new marketplace will be included with all Windows phones based on Windows Mobile 6.5, which will help users easily find, install and deploy applications. Developers have already built more than 20,000 applications for Windows phones, according to the company.

 

Nokia also launched a mobile app store, the Ovi Store, at Mobile World Congress. Beginning in March, content providers and developers can begin uploading content to the store, which will open in May. Nokia says applications will include games, videos, widgets, podcasts, location-based applications and personalization content for Nokia Series 40 and S60 devices.

 

Next: Where Are the Business Apps?


{mospagebreak title=Where Are the Business Apps?}

Industry experts and IT professionals say the app stores have the potential to serve the needs of business users, but for the most part they mainly address the consumer market today.

 

"Currently the impact of mobile app stores for business users has been limited," says Mike Mierwinski, CIO at Mid-America Overseas, a transportation and logistics provider. "While there have been some useful applications that add business functionality to the iPhone for corporate network connectivity, communication and resource management, the majority of the applications appear to be geared towards the personal use of these devices."

 

Mierwinski says some of the current lack of applications for business users can be attributed to security restrictions placed on corporate networks that require the intervention of IT to implement applications.

 

"The best applications I have seen are those that further enhance the built-in time management and contact tools that normally come with these devices," Mierwinski says. "I believe mobile app stores with hundreds of applications written by independent software developers won't become a killer app for business solutions on these devices. The issues around support and [data privacy] are likely too great to overcome for the independent developer, and would require the staff and reputability that only a company focused on the development of these applications can provide."

 

For simple productivity-based applications, apps stores could be useful enablers, says Nick Holland, senior analyst at consulting firm Aite Group LLC. "However, core business functions usually require tight integration with existing back-end systems. It is unlikely that business IT departments are going to use app stores to purchase and distribute software to employees," Holland says.

 

Furthermore, Holland says, a decentralized use of mobile software for business applications has a number of risks, such as the corruption of office data and the introduction of malware.

 

Holland says there is potential business use for any mobile application that saves people time or money. "Remote access to core business capabilities such as transaction authorization have obvious benefits," he says. Another example is the ability for remote users to reduce time spent on submitting expenses, travel booking, etc. with access to a central system using a mobile device.

 

Pelino thinks mobile app stores are an important channel for device makers to reach business customers with mobile applications that address the needs of business users.

 

"The key value to CIOs and business users of these mobile app stores is that they provide a single location for CIOs to find applications that have been developed for the mobile devices and operating systems that they support in their organization," Pelino says. "There is also the convenience factor for business users who can go to the stores and quickly find applications that can work on their devices immediately."

 

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Bill has been a member of the technology and publishing industries for more than 25 years and brings extensive expertise to the roles of CEO, CIO, and Executive Editor. Most recently, Bill was COO and Co-Founder of CIOZone.com and the parent company PSN Inc. Previously, Bill held the position of CTO of both Wiseads New Media and About.com.

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