Sizing up the race for app store supremacy

For all of the oft-repeated complaints about Apple's App Store--e.g., the abundance of free and bargain-priced apps, the discoverability challenges and Apple's failures to communicate with the iPhone developer community--it's still the best game in town, at least according to a new analysis of mobile application marketplace initiatives conducted by research firm Global Intelligence Alliance. Citing five key factors in determining an application storefront's success or failure--time to market, the ability to attract developers, the rate of device adoption, an efficient interface and user experience, and a critical mass of attractive applications--GIA grades the App Store several notches higher than Google's Android Market and Nokia's Ovi Store, its closest competitors. The App Store's strengths, according to GIA: Its early entrance into the mobile application marketplace segment, its wealth of applications (15,000 as of January 2009) and its emergence as a community-building tool, which translates to accelerating iPhone adoption rates.

Android Market and Ovi Store tied for second in Global Intelligence Alliance's rankings. The report contends that Android's open standards and non-profit orientation make the platform a serious contender, but cites Android Market's extended delay in introducing premium applications as well as the relatively small addressable market of Android-based devices as potential obstacles. As for Ovi Store, announced just two weeks ago during Mobile World Congress 2009 and launching in May, GIA touts Nokia's efforts to differentiate the storefront via sophisticated, intuitive features like user-relevant download suggestions and location integration, and adds that the sheer scope of the Nokia consumer base should offset the handset giant's late entry into app store contention.

As for the rest of the field, Global Intelligence Alliance downgrades Microsoft's forthcoming Windows Marketplace for Mobile due to the software giant's failure to consolidate its mobile application distribution channels earlier, resulting in a fragmented landscape made up of rival third-party WinMo apps providers. However, GIA points out that Windows Mobile far outpaces its rivals in terms of the number of applications available, with more than 20,000 at last count. Research In Motion's BlackBerry Application Storefront, opening this month, must also contend with third-party marketplaces, but the store offers developer partners an industry-best 80 percent of download revenues and will offer a secure purchasing mechanism developed by payment solutions provider PayPal--GIA adds that RIM must address a more lifestyle oriented consumer segment beyond its traditional enterprise users. Finally, GIA admits that Palm's application distribution plans for its new webOS platform are anyone's guess, although sources suggest the firm will favor a less stringent and controlling approach than Apple. That's one way to differentiate your app store, but ruling with an iron hand certainly hasn't hurt Apple too badly so far. -Jason