By Phil Downing
The boom of smartphones, such as the iPhone and Google’s Android, have lead to the emergence of a new media commodity: the phone app or application. Data by mobile advertising firms Millennial Media and Mobclix say that consumers are now downloading over of 100 million applications from Apple’s App Store each month.
The downloadable add-ons to your phone can range from business functions to social media products to videogames. The hundreds of thousands of apps available allow users to turn their phones into a single access point for all of their favorite media by connecting thousands of services and commodities with their cell phone.
Apps, such as Facebook and Twitter provide people mobile access to their social media lives, while apps such as New York Times and Bloomberg connect people to breaking news from around the world. Apps don’t always need to be functional either, they can allow you to play a round of Supermonkeyball or sing like T-Pain if you have a little spare time.
But Apps aren’t all fun and games; there is a lot of money and big business behind them. The business side of apps is found in “the app store”. With smartphone sales growing by the minute, these contact points between app developers and smartphone users have surged into a billion dollar industry.
As always with new and profitable business markets, big corporations are battling it out for power and control of the medium. This has lead to a divided and unorganized app industry. Corporations like Apple and RIM have tried to gain control by only allowing their applications to work with their devices. Every smartphone developer now has its own app store where you can buy apps that work exclusively with their devices. RIM created App World, Nokia developed Ovi Store, Google made Android Market and Apple made the App store.
Although big businesses sectioning off certain apps has confined customers, it has opened up the door for new businesses. GetJar is a third party app stores that generates 60 million downloads per month and has 350,000 registered developers. Unlike App world and Apple’s App Store, GetJar sells apps for all platforms. GetJar cannot sell apps that can be used by all phones because each phone brand requires different types of programming but it does create an area where all phone users can buy whatever apps they want. Since its creation GetJar has grown into the second largest app seller behind apple.
Independent developers have also capitalized on the new medium. Recently, Apple CEO Steve Jobs reported that Apple’s app store had made over one $1B in revenues for app developers and that many applications in the app store make over $3,500 per day. Developers have earned substantial revenues through other app stores as well.
This is an Apple commercial, so it bias toward the iPhone, but it does show how people are starting new businesses through apps.
I guess all of this comes down to one question: should you buy apps for your smartphone? When all is said and done the app can be seen as just another way to rip people off. But if you’re going to get ripped off you might as well get a fun game or a useful service on your cell phone. Apps generally only cost around $3 a piece and they are stimulating some growth for new competing businesses. So I say have at it. Just make sure to buy your apps from an independent store and not another fat corporation trying to take yet another bite out of the economy.