In last month's FierceWireless column, I wrote about the evolution of the app store, focused on business model and pricing issues. Part 2 of the series is focused on how to improve the experience from a context and personalization perspective.
As a quick preamble, with the planned launch of at least ten new app storefronts in 2009, it is important to understand that the business objectives of the key participants will vary, depending on the store category:
1. Device/OS centric. These include app stores for iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Android and Palm devices. Though the development platforms might be "open," apps run only on devices supporting that OS. For some devices, such as the iPhone, apps can only be purchased in the Apple App Store, while for BlackBerry, apps can be bought through BlackBerry App World as well as numerous third party storefronts such as Handango. Within this construct, the end game for an Apple is quite different than for Google or Nokia.
2. Operator storefronts. See this as the evolution of the operator's "deck." Some stores, such as VZAppZone, are more segment oriented, while in Vodafone's case, its store is a way of scaling, leveraging and harmonizing content across Vodafone properties. Some operators run their own branded app store, others outsource to vendors such as Handango or Motricity for particular types of devices, while others are focused on broader support for third party storefronts. The experience will not be as tightly integrated as Apple/iTunes, but operators have a unique opportunity to differentiate by leveraging core assets such as the user's location, presence and utilizing some level of subscriber data--albeit cautiously.
3. Third party storefronts. Companies such as Handmark, Handango and GetJar run application storefronts serving a breadth of networks and devices, both direct to consumer and in some cases on a white label basis or as customized app development for certain devices such as the BlackBerry. The PC/Web is often an important element of their direct to consumer relationship.
I think the most important way to differentiate in this growing but increasingly crowded market is to deliver a more personalized, contextual applications experience. In most cases, all users launching an app store are presented with the same menu. There have been some early stage attempts to enable users to do some content configuration on operator or third party portals, sort of a wireless version of My Yahoo. But if we're dealing with tens of thousands of apps and a small screen device with limited input capability, we have to get a lot smarter about what is presented to the user, with the magic being done in the background rather than relying on the user to self-configure. ...Continued