Commentary

Apple Disappoints Gadget Geeks. Good!

Despite all of the usual weird scrutiny that accompanies any Apple presentation, there were a few pieces from Wednesday's event that slipped under most radar. When I fired up the on-deck App Store yesterday, I was surprised to find a new tab in the Top 25 directory listing for "Top Grossing" apps. From an industry insider's perspective, this is a nice addition. Developers, market watchers, marketers, et al now can get a handle on which apps and development houses actually make money in this ecosystem. Apple obviously is throwing a bone to its development community, especially the larger companies like Electronic Arts, TomTom and Gameloft, who are looking for new and better ways to surface their higher-priced merchandise. Steve Jobs boasted yesterday that there are 75,000 apps in the store now, which reflects at once his platform's greatest success (developer enthusiasm) and its biggest problem (clutter).

The most important number uttered yesterday (a truly staggering one) however, is 50 million. That is the combined number of iPhone and iPod Touch units now in circulation. Many of us think about the App Store as it relates to the iPhone, but for millions of users (especially teens), the Touch is quickly becoming the platform of choice, and the applications are helping to sell it.

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While all of the gadget freaks may have been disappointed by the meager hardware rollouts this week, the real message I got yesterday is that Apple knows that it has a massive content platform on its hands now. The key developments in the iTunes Store and on the iPhone/Touch deck are about merchandising. Finally. After a decade of mobile content development, someone is going to take content discovery and marketing seriously. Ads networks that are serving banners and interstitials into this platform should have a new response to the usual complaint about iPhone-centricity. No, this is not a sexy niche anymore.

The other figure that is too big to ignore is 21,178 -- the number of game titles in that ecosystem. Again, the volume of gaming apps is both impressive and troubling. Since I started this column many years ago, it has become an annual ritual to write an entry urging Nintendo to come in and "own the mobile gaming space...please?" The brilliance that company showed in mobilizing the game experience for the GameBoy and DS platforms made the phone-centric gaming world look sad.

Too late, now. Nintendo's DSiWare store and the upcoming smaller Sony PSP Go unit are playing catch-up. They both have their own app stores with snackable titles. The DSi grew a camera and better browsing. The PSP Go will be pocketable.

As much as I love my dedicated handheld gaming units, the smart phone and the iPod are likely to squeeze them down, if not out. The fact that Electronic Art yesterday released its Madden NFL '10 iteration of the legendary franchise in the App Store tells the tale. My understanding is that no DS version is planned this year. In fact, EA's new title is already planted at the top of the Top Grossing titles tab.

The most interesting thing to me about the App ecosystem is how it seems to have revived, if not salvaged, two long-struggling mobile content segments that never quite lived up to our high expectations - gaming and video. I will save the video piece for a later, fuller exploration. Suffice to say, applications with live streaming and on-demand content are going to be a very hot piece of the business in coming months. To be sure, the iPhone/iPod devices made both gaming and video genuinely enjoyable in this form factor. But the applications model finally allows for a greater flexibility in packaging, pricing and sampling of video and games than we have seen before, and it frees the medium from competing technologies. But most of all, the app platforms is giving marketers a much wider palette of possibilities for leveraging games and video. There now are ways for marketers to enhance and underwrite game and video experiences rather than interrupt them.

What was a disappointment to the gadget dweebs yesterday should have been good news for content providers and marketers. Now we are talking less about the technology and more about the medium.

1 comment about "Apple Disappoints Gadget Geeks. Good! ".
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  1. Steve Smith from Mediapost, September 10, 2009 at 5 p.m.

    Thinking of all those fart apps, Paula?

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