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The One Million Application Store

The iPhone App Store is now over the 90,000 mark, and marching inexorably towards 100,000. Responding to my and Scoble’s posts on the App Store numbers, John highlights the fact that I think I alluded to in my post: That the position is very similar to the old world of Mac vs PC from the 1990’s (and still true today).

To John, and I suspect a lot of Mac users, quality of applications is more important than quantity. After all, Windows has many, many more applications than the Mac. If you’re talking about the world of the personal computer, there’s only one company that could use the phrase “there’s an app for that” – and it isn’t Apple.

However, I think that is missing the long-term picture of the App Store, and how it changes the game compared to the world of the PC. 100,000 applications, even of low quality, is already a big number. A very big number. Having searched around, I can’t find a number for the total number of Windows applications, but I’d hazard a guess that it’s not an order of magnitude larger than 100,000.

In other words, I think that the total number of iPhone apps is already within distance of the total number of Windows apps – and given that the iPhone is much, much younger platform that’s significant. Now relate this to this point of John’s:

“It’s a sign that the iPhone and the App Store are popular, and it’s a self-perpetuating form of popularity, in that developers go where the action is, and users go where the software is.”

More applications = more developers = more applications = more users = more developers… you get the idea.

Given the astonishing growth of the number of iPhone applications, the question should be this: What happens when (and it is when, not if) there aren’t 100,000 apps, but one million? How will that change the game? When “there’s an app for that” isn’t just true in a sorta, kinda, advertising-ish way but literally true, how does that change what people can do?

I don’t actually know the answer. I suspect, in fact, no one does – that the ability to know that whatever you want to do, there’s an application to do it, and importantly that you can find it all in one place – changes the relationship between software, platform and usage so dramatically that we’d be entering a different world.

This is related to a point that Dan Lyons made in one of his best recent Fake Steve posts. The worlds of applications and content are meeting and blurring, and what the outcome of that will be is really unknown at the moment. The next generation of content creators will think of everything as an application. It’s not a video, it’s not a book, it’s not even a web site. It will be a genuinely interactive expression of an idea. The iPhone is starting to give us a glimpse of that. The Apple tablet (if there is one) will give us another glimpse.

Think of it that way, and suddenly even a one million app store isn’t big enough. Ten million? Twenty? Who knows?

But it will be fun finding out.

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  • http://www.snell-pym.org.uk/alaric/ Alaric Snell-Pym

    To be honest, I’m delighted to be in a time when there are actually several viable mainstream operating systems around.

    I grew up as the home micro era was collapsing – and good riddance, too; there was almost zero interoperability between them (although they were kinda fun ;-).

    But it was replaced by a Microsoft hegemony through the 1990s; although it was, in the short term, a good thing to stifle innovation and foster the development of a common model of the OS for application developers and users alike, the problem was that it was a rubbish common model: bodged together from the models of MS-DOS and whatever was easiest to implement quickly, with far too little actual inspiration from the current state of the art.

    So it makes me feel warm inside to see that other OSes are now “making it” in the real world. They all build, to varying extents, on the world as it evolved through the machinations of MIcrosoft and the melting-pots of development of the Internet; so they are not gratuitiously incompatible, either at the software or UI-concept levels – but they’re free to explore better paradigms, and more importantly, by chipping away at the tangly strangly roots of binary compatability with Windows, they’re making it easier for other OSes to be developed in future; as more and more developers realise they get a wider market by sticking to more portable platform abstractions, the barrier to entry for interesting new OSes decreases, which furnishes innovation.

    Hurrah! Huzzah! Etc.

  • http://www.PatternMusic.com Richard Lawler

    It’s January and the march to a million is well underway: 130,000 apps and 3 billion downloads.

    It’s a cornucopia of plenty for iPhone users at $0.99 a sip.

    But app discovery has become a huge problem for even well-funded developers.

    Unlike Amazon’s web-based store, the iPhone-based App Store appears to have no “long tail”. Kind of unsurprising, since the App Store was created from a music store designed to sell a constantly changing stream of top-40 hits.

    I found this graph particularly telling: http://www.pinchmedia.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Slide4.png

    It is data from October from: Pinch Media: Paid Applications on the App Store http://www.pinchmedia.com/blog/paid-applications-on-the-app-store-from-360idev/

    Judging by that graph the median app (50th percentile) has about 1000 downloads and with an average app price of $1.85 that means that median app can expect to make $1850 gross or about $1300 after Apple’s cut. Even at the 85th percentile (or 2nd decile in that chart) 9300 downloads will net about $12,000 in revenue. Not a bad take, but not a going concern if that app represents a man-year of labor.

    At some point long before 1 million apps this bubble will burst.

  • Steve Everhard

    I think what you’re missing Richard is that old Apple stalwart, paradigm shift. The well publicised examples of app store millionaires continue to emerge because the great thing about these apps is that they are rapid to develop and simple to deliver. Marketing is through peer recommendation and social media and not through marketing budgets. Brand is unimportant. Can Entertainment Arts make money from iPhone apps? Who knows and frankly who cares? For them it is a marketing tool for the big hitter games on the richer gaming platforms, but for the guy in his garage it’s an opportunity for recognition and maybe some pin money – and who knows, maybe the chance at a decent return?

    The app store disintermediates publishers and provides a channel for guys beavering away in their spare time, and provides an opportunity for consumer focused businesses to reach out to their market (well the ones with iPhones and iPod Touches at least) with utility and access.

    Android is an option for counter-culture geeks who won’t buy Apple because they now see the ex-radical Cupertino hot house as ‘the man’. Such is commercial success. Google only understands its market when they are giving stuff away, which is why the Android free apps bias is no surprise to me. Making money from anyone but advertisers and the internet infrastructure still eludes them. This is where Apple’s strength lies. I think we realise that the web isn’t just about free stuff but about cheap stuff and that is the strength of the app store.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    Steve’s right. Google knows how to sell to advertisers, but not to customers. Apple knows how to sell to customers. This is something that I noted at http://www.technovia.co.uk/2010/01/googles-business-strategy-versus-apples-actual-real-business.html