With Apple announcing this week that iPhone application downloads have hit 2 billion, it raises the question of whether rival new app storefronts have any chance of ever catching up.
At least one app developer and distributor believes a rising tide of iPhone apps will raise all boats. "There's no question in my mind that these other [mobile] operating systems like Android and BlackBerry will have extremely vibrant app ecosystems and are already well on the way," said Evan Conway, vice president of marketing for Handmark, which powers some 50 mobile content storefronts globally. "They're absolutely going to do 2 billion downloads."
That prediction is likely to draw snickers if not outright laughter in the mobile world since competitors like the Android Marketplace and BlackBerry App World are nowhere near that total in downloads yet or close to matching the App Store's selection of 85,000 apps. It's a classic case of first-mover advantage. But Conway isn't speaking as a bitter enemy of Apple. The company has also developed apps for the iPhone and benefited from the app explosion it launched. "Apple raised awareness that you can put an app on your phone," said Conway in an interview this week. "It's been a good thing because it's led to creation of all these apps and a huge new distribution service for us."
But in the expanding app universe, brands and other developers won't want to be limited to a single device or operating system, especially for apps that aren't one-off novelties, he added.
Handmark has created apps for traditional media companies including the Wall Street Journal, CBS Interactive, the Associated Press and Time across different mobile platforms. The wide range of apps built around a social networking service like Twitter also won't be tied to any one system.
Further, Conway expects an open OS like Android itself will give rise to multiple app stores beyond Google's Android Marketplace. "In the long run, this won't be some winner-take-all market," said. Exactly when these competing app stores will reach 2 billion downloads, though, he didn't say.