‘Thank You Apple. Seriously.’

Apple iPhone App Store

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Way, way back in 1981, Apple ran a provocative ad headlined “Welcome IBM. Seriously.” The ad was in response to IBM’s debut of the company’s first personal computer — a market Apple helped pioneer years earlier, and which Big Blue’s entry was set to further legitimize.

Apple’s competitors in the mobile market aren’t taking out ads (yet) welcoming the iPhone, but they sure sound grateful.

Earlier this month, Nokia’s CEO publicly thanked Apple for showing the industry and consumers the exciting potential of mobile devices. Tuesday, an executive with Access Systems, a company that makes mobile device software for phone manufacturers like Sony Ericson and Samsung, thanked Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) for helping it sell new products.

“We’re probably one of the ones capitalizing the most on the iPhone,” said Albert Chu, vice president of global marketing and alliances for Access, during this week’s Mobile Content & Marketing Expo here. (The Expo is owned by Jupitermedia, parent company of InternetNews.com.)

“Our key customers are saying, ‘Make our phone like the iPhone’. There are a lot of things we’ve been trying to sell them in terms of touch and other ideas we’ve tried to peddle, but these are pretty conservative companies. The iPhone has been a disruptive force.”

Earlier in the day, Kurt Kruger, a product marketing manager with HP’s handheld division, had similarly chimed in during a panel discussion.

“Thanks to Apple for raising the bar to the mobile operators around the world and helping them really understand that they need to evolve their business practices a bit,” he said. As it turns out, HP is widely expected to be preparing its own iPhone competitor, due to ship before the end of the year.

During a later panel, Chu and other iPhone developers all praised Apple’s App Store for standardizing and simplifying mobile software distribution — an area that historically has been complicated and slow.

Because of Apple’s success,
“every platform will have a centralized distribution for applications,” said Greg Yardley, CEO of Pinch Media, a startup providing free analytics tools to iPhone developers. “You’ll see a variety of App stores.”

For example, though it hasn’t been officially announced, BlackBerry maker RIM is widely rumored to be readying its own App Store.

The challenges of rapid growth

If the panelists had a concern about the iPhone, it was how Apple will deal with its explosive growth. Apple said there has been over 100 million downloads of software at the App Store in the first 60 days of operation.

“I don’t think anyone at Apple was expecting that volume of downloads,” said David Hill, vice president of client services at Medialets, which provides analytics and ad services for the iPhone and the emerging Android set of devices, based on the Google-backed mobile operating system.

[cob:Special_Report]”Apple has control with the App Store now, but let’s see how they handle the growth,” Chu said.

There are also some issues of concern from the developer perspective. “The iPhone is a very rich developer environment, but it takes getting used to and there are technical limitations; though no worse or better than on Facebook,” said Bart Decrem, CEO of iPhone game developer Tapulous.

He warned that “there is increasingly a lot of fragility in the [iPhone] platform” with the release of different operating system updates developers have to stay on top of. Decrem also noted the apparent abrupt changes in criteria as to what applications Apple will approve for the App Store.

“On the whole, the iPhone is a fantastic platform,” said Decrem. “Apple is trying to keep crappy software off the platform and if it does that, that will make everyone happy.”

Decrem himself is pretty happy these days: His company’s Tap Tap Revenge game for the iPhone is a runaway hit with over 2 million downloads.

Apple is also wooing enterprise users, and Yardley thinks the App Store concept will eventually spread to the workplace — though it will likely be in some custom form or separate from the consumer store.

“If you’re a consumer, you don’t want to see ‘Works with SAP,'” he said.

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