Can rivals capitalize on App Store discontent?

Another trade show, another app store opening. This time the trade show in question is CTIA Wireless 2009, and the app store is Research In Motion's BlackBerry App World--or at least everyone assumes that RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis will formally unveil the virtual marketplace during his CTIA keynote Wednesday morning. BlackBerry App World follows on the heels of Nokia's Ovi Store and Microsoft's Windows Marketplace for Mobile, both announced at Mobile World Congress back in mid-February. A new report issued last week by market analysis firm In-Stat forecasts that the emergence of the mobile storefront model will translate to more than 100 million app store users in five years: "With greater capabilities in both running native applications and viewing ‘real Internet' websites, smartphones have increased usage and user expectations for mobile content," says In-Stat analyst David Chamberlain in a prepared statement. "Along with the expanding handset base, users are downloading more applications."

Apple's App Store remains the standard by which its rivals are judged, of course. Late last week, the App Store crossed the 30,000 iPhone application benchmark according to website 148Apps, which keeps a running tally. That's up from 28,000 apps less than two weeks earlier--and don't forget that the App Store is still less than a year old. But according to Fortune, the deluge of new iPhone apps is beginning to slow, dipping from an average of 250 per day in early March to fewer than 223 each day over the last few weeks. (That may be due in part to developers shifting over to the brand-spanking-new iPhone OS 3.0 SDK, however.)

But iPhone developer discontent is once again on the rise. Some programmers say their apps are lingering in approval purgatory for months at a stretch, although Apple contends that 96 percent of total applications submitted in February were approved, 98 percent of them within seven days. TechCrunch reports there are also charges of longer waits for monthly payments, sometimes extending past the 45-day cutoff outlined in the iPhone developer contract. Most of all, developers are fuming over Apple's punitive refund policies, which mandate that if a user asks for a refund within 90 days of downloading an application, coders must return 100 percent of the sale price, even though Apple retains 30 percent of revenues on each App Store purchase. App Store gripes are nothing new, of course, but what is different this time around is the sheer number of rival application storefronts and operating systems now vying for developer attention--time will tell whether disgruntled programmers finally make a break for greener pastures.  -Jason

P.S. Join me and the rest of the Fierce gang for our annual CTIA Wireless networking event, taking place this year at Pure on April 1 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Click here to register. And be sure to follow the FierceWireless CTIA Live website all this week for breaking news and commentary direct from the conference floor.