The downfall of Intel's AppUp experiment, explained

Shane Schick

The stats from just two years ago sound pretty good to me: A new user every 56 seconds. A download every 16 seconds. More than 2.6 billion possible devices to run the apps on. And yet, there's nothing too surprising about Intel's decision to close its AppUp app store, other than what took so long. 

A few weeks ago Intel posted a message that confirmed AppUp, which it had launched to great fanfare in 2010, would be shuttered by March 11. "At Intel, we're always thinking about the future, which often means making changes today," the statement said. And that was really about all the context that was provided. Developers and even consumers could probably read between the lines, though. Far from being an example of its future-oriented mindset, AppUp was in many ways an attempt for Intel to cling to the past, namely a world dominated by desktops and Microsoft Windows. 

In some respects, you can understand how AppUp was conceived and why it might have made strategic sense. Everything Intel does is designed to remind developers, consumers and pretty much anyone else willing to notice that the fun things you're using are running its processors. By offering its own app store, Intel was hoping to sustain a market in which higher-end laptops (the unfortunately named Ultrabooks) and low-end laptops or "netbooks" would continue to represent the dominant computing paradigm. 

There are a lot of "ifs" that could have made the AppUp story play out a lot differently. If Microsoft hadn't opened its own Windows app store, there might have been a bit more momentum. If Ultrabooks had proven more popular, or if netbooks hadn't been more or less decimated by tablets, developers might be jostling to get their apps in AppUp. The biggest problem, however, may simply be that app usage became particularly appealing in those in-between times when you're not sitting down in front of a keyboard but are standing in line, waiting in a coffee shop or otherwise in a situation where only a handheld device like a phone will do. 

It would be stupid to dismiss a company of Intel's size and ingenuity, of course. In fact, there are signs it had learned from AppUp's failure before it decided to end it. This includes Intel's decision to acquire Havok back in 2007, a move that more recently led to a new mobile game rendering engine called Project Anarchy. Intel may be realizing it is better positioned to play an important role in the app and mobile gaming space by providing more of the foundational elements in the software that developers use rather than just the hardware that an app may eventually run on. 

The worst thing Intel could do now is offer radio silence. "By closing Intel AppUp center, Intel will be able to focus more than ever on developing the next generation of platform innovation," it said. If the company wants to engage developers on that platform--whatever it is--the time to start offering details is now.--Shane