RealTime IT News

Lots in (App) Store for Smartphones

Smartphone innovation is tethered to a constellation of factors coming together: the right hardware, a flexible operating system, good design, a fast network and, of course, nifty applications.

After all, as smartphones grow in power, so do expectations of better experiences with those applications.

"It's just like the PC model," Tim Bajarin, president of analyst firm Creative Strategies, told InternetNews.com.

"We all had this computer on our desks but it was the software that made it useful. Smartphones are becoming the PCs in our pocket, and just like desktops, software will be a critical part in adoption and use," he said.

Small wonder that download stores and markets for smartphone applications are hotter than ever.

The T-Mobile/HTC G1 phone has officially opened the doors to its Android Market, with a come-on to developers to register. After a one-time $25 fee, they can start submitting applications by December.

According to the Android Developer blog, the Market is an "open content distribution system." Developers can make content available on the open service that features a feedback and rating system similar to YouTube. G1 users wanting music, however, will have to head over to Amazon where a G1 MP3 Store is open for business.

The Android blog said Google chose the word "market" over "store" to illustrate the need to have an "open and unobstructed environment." Developers register, upload and describe their content. In terms of oversight Google said it will only remove malicious applications, but otherwise will be completely hands-off.

Google plans to provide a dashboard and analytics for developers in the near future. Content is free through this year, and a site update will support download of paid content in 2009.

Right now the Market features about 50 to 60 applications, several of which were winners of a Google-sponsored $10 million Android Developer Challenge.

According to Medialerts, a New York-based mobile advertising network and analytics, 62 applications were available in the first 24 hours the Market was open -- less than 10 percent of applications with the launch of Apple’s App Store for the iPhone.

The firm estimates 200,000 to 700,000 downloads have taken place. Actual download stats are not provided on the Market's site and Google did not return calls to InternetNews.com to confirm specific download and application activity.

In comparison, Apple's App store crossed the 200 million mark in downloads this week. Currently, the 102-day old App Store has 5,500 apps and is in 62 countries.

In the Android Market, one favorite application, according to MediaAlerts, is ShopSavvy. The comparative shopping application that lets users scan a product's UPC code and instantly compare prices from online merchants and nearby local stores. Another is Ecorio, which lets users track of daily travels and view what their carbon footprint looks like. BreadCrumbz lets users create a step-by-step visual map using photos.

Several third-party application providers have also announced Android applications, including Visa, which said it is building an Android-based online banking application.

Other third party application sites such as Handmark are already hawking paid applications for the Android phone in addition to the market place.

Android's decentralized, and slow and steady development approach, shouldn't be viewed in a negative way. And comparing it to iTunes isn't fair, said Bajarin.

"Apple [and its iTunes] had a significant lead for several reasons as it was based on the company's PC system and they went with a single distribution point for their own reasons," explained Bajarin.

Those reasons include very tight supervision and approval of iPhone applications.

Google's Android development is in complete contrast, said the analyst. Android development is as open as Apple's iPhone development is closed.

At Apple's iTunes and App stores, users access music and applications using a USB doggle that allows for quick PC-handset synchronization. That easy approach has resonated big with iPhone owners, said Bajarin. G1 users have the same access process at its Market.

"Users want that ease of use and it eliminates a lot of confusion but that doesn't mean other approaches are bad," he said.

Android users, though, don't have one-stop shopping. If development takes off as expected by they will have plenty of places to find free and fee-based software, said Bajarin.

Pundits expect third-party Android developers will sell direct and at other venues such as online shopping sites. They could even sell directly to handset makers making Android devices, noted Bajarin.

"There is still a lot of confusion but Android's applications will be a significant competitor because of its openness," said Bajarin. "Apple did set the bar pretty high [with iTunes] but there's lots of growth and room in this market going forward."

That growth comes from mobile phone users who have yet to grab a smartphone. The CTIA, an industry wireless association, predicts 1.3 billion mobile phones will be sold this year.

Just about 10 percent of those, however, will be smartphone units, according to Creative Strategies research. The firm predicts that 1.5 billion mobile phones will be sold in 2012, and that 70 percent will be smartphones at that point.

One analyst, who described the Android development ecosystem as a "tough approach," noted that while the distribution channels may cause confusion for users and developers it could be a temporary challenge.

"It may very well evolve to where Android developers are pushing applications right onto the handset and working with manufacturers," Ryan Reith, senior research analyst, worldwide mobile phone tracker, IDC.