Last January, I wrote about how the iPhone App Store was the surprise story of 2008.
The point of my previous post was how the iPhone App Store ran contrary to the prevailing technology trends. Particularly when it comes to the trends that we’ve come to think of when we talk about Web 2.0.
However, from the perspective of the mobile industry, the iPhone App Store presents several breakthroughs and its success isn’t surprising at all.
The iPhone App Store vs. Carrier Application Distribution
Apple’s ability to convince AT&T to let it release an App Store that Apple controlled was ground breaking. Because of this, the App Store was a significant leap ahead of what had come before. Here are some of the factors that we looked at when comparing the development platforms:
- How difficult is it to become a developer for a platform? What hoops do you have to jump through to get permission?
- Entry Cost
- Assuming you can get permission, how much do you have to pay to develop and sell software for a given platform?
- Revenue Split
- How much of the revenue will you have to share?
- Can you publish anything you like? How much outside influence is there on the software or content you want to publish?
- How difficult is it to release your software? What are the review cycles?
- How easy it for you to sell your software? Is there a good system for purchasing small amounts?
We took those six characteristics and compared the iPhone App Store to what previous model where the carriers where the gatekeepers to a mobile application’s success:
|Openness||Closed, Seek permission||Open to anyone who signs agreement|
|Entry Cost||Thousands of dollars||$99|
|Revenue Split||60/40 to 50/50||70/30|
|Releases||Difficult, Not Timely||1 to 2 weeks|
|Micropayments||Inconsistent, Troublesome||iTunes account for every phone|
Looking at those six factors in the table above, it is clear why the iPhone App Store represented such a significant departure from what was previously available to developers.
The barriers to entry are lower which means that more developers are participating in and there is more buzz surrounding the App Store than any of the previous models could have hoped to achieve.
How does this compare to the mobile web?
How does the mobile web compare to the App Store? Let’s take a look at those six factors again:
|App Store||Mobile Web|
|Openness||Open to anyone who signs agreement||Completely Open|
|Releases||1 to 2 weeks||Instantaneous|
|Micropayments||iTunes account for every phone||No perfect solution|
For five of the six factors, the mobile web has an advantage over the App Store.
This Doesn’t Mean the Mobile Web is No-brainer
Despite the fact that five out of the six factors favor the mobile web does not necessarily mean that the mobile web is the best strategy at this moment in time.
The lack of a consistent payment model for the mobile web is no small thing. It is a huge hindrance for mobile web adoption.
At the same time, lots of test are going on right now to try to allow people to purchase real world goods like groceries using their mobile phones. If in the future you will be able to buy a bottle of water using your phone, I’m certain you’ll be able to buy digital goods like mobile web applications and services through your phone.
In addition, there are good reasons why people choose to build native applications that have nothing to do with the application distribution mechanism. We’ll cover those factors in a later post.
So what does this mean? Future Possibilities
When I look at these six factors, it says to me that in the long run, the mobile web will be a distribution mechanism equal to or better than App Stores because of the freedom and control that it gives developers.
In the short run, the lack of consistent micropayments for the mobile web makes it very challenging compared to the iPhone App Store.
If there was one thing that would make the mobile web more successful, it would be a consistent mechanism for paying for mobile web services and applications.