App War Isn't Over
Apple may not have won the app war after all. With its more than 250,000 titles on offer in the App Store and more than 5 billion downloads bringing in $1 billion to date, there's no question the technology giant is the dominant player in mobile apps.
But competitors certainly aren't ready to raise the white flag. Most notable is Google, whose Android Marketplace now boasts more than 70,000 apps. And with Android becoming the top-selling smartphone platform in the U.S. in the second quarter, downloads from Google app storefront are bound to accelerate as more users buy Android devices.
That in turn will encourage more developers to create apps for the platform, creating a virtuous cycle for Google. Where brands and other developers once thought mainly, or only, of creating iPhone apps, Android is running a strong second place in commanding mindshare. But it's not just a two-horse race, either.
The $15 million funding announced today by PocketGear, which bills itself as the "world's largest open app store," signals that investors are also willing to bet on app storefronts that don't cater to the iPhone. PocketGear offers 140,000 paid and free titles for all other major smartphones except the Apple device, including Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Palm.
The BlackBerry Partners Fund, the venture capital arm of Research in Motion, was among the investors, underscoring the company's efforts to compete with Apple in luring consumers to its smartphone line. With less than 10,000 apps in its own BlackBerry App World storefront, RIM still has a long way to go to catch its main rivals. But universal app stores like PocketGear and GetJar, which raised $11 million in June, can help provide distribution for BlackBerry apps.
GetJar, which offers 75,000 apps and claims more than 1 billion downloads, is hoping to make app downloads as ubiquitous as sharing content via social bookmarks with a new "App It" badge. The branded button can be placed on a Web site and links to the publishers' page on GetJar, where users can download the version appropriate to their device.
Even Nokia hasn't thrown in the towel on apps. Despite its failure to keep pace with the likes of Apple and Google in the smartphone wars and stumbling out of the gate last year with its Ovi Store, the Finnish phone giant last week acquired U.S. mobile analytics firm Motally in a bid to bolster its app offerings and attract more developers.
That said, this growing competition doesn't make things any easier for brands, which now more than ever have to consider creating apps for other platforms besides the iPhone. That means investing more in developing and promoting new titles. It also means that fragmentation in the mobile world isn't about to disappear anytime soon.