Applications and stores

October 28, 2008

There’s so much news right now about mobile applications and stores, it feels like time to take stock.

When iPhone launched and I got my greedy mitts on a jailbroken Shiny from the US, one of the things I liked most about it was the dodgy “installer” app which the kind man who jailbroke it for me put there. At the time it definitely felt like the best experience I’d had of downloading and installing third-party mobile applications, and Apple have gone on to improve on it with their official Application Store.

Conventional wisdom had been that users don’t download mobile apps, a generalisation which flies in the face of our experience; we know we’ve had well in excess of 750,000 downloads of apps incorporating our Cactus UI library to date, plus the installations we’re unable to track ourselves. And our experience isn’t unique. But there’s definitely been some problems taking owners of conventional smartphones through the process of downloading and installing an application:

  1. Text into a shortcode
  2. Receive a WAP Push or text message
  3. Find it, open it, click on the link
  4. Ignore the warning that you might go online
  5. Pray your mobile phone has correct connection settings
  6. Go online, wondering how much this is costing you
  7. Find out your phone isn’t supported (whatever that means)
  8. Wonder what all the fuss is about

So… application downloads to date have been by customers who are educated enough, driven enough or persistent enough to deal with this infernal procedure.

Just one more thing…

I love the mobile web. It’s getting better every year as devices and networks improve, it’s still got a long way to go, and it’s the most cost-effective means of getting a mobile service launched.

But isn’t it strange that Apple are getting massive success selling applications via a an application itself – that they’re not selling and distributing iPhone apps via the web, either on the device or through iTunes? And it looks like Google are taking the same tack.

Isn’t this a pretty strong endorsement of application as a route to online content, rather than the web? And isn’t the success Apple has enjoyed with their application store testament to the fact that even in situations where the web might provide a perfectly serviceable experience (such as e-commerce), applications are a better route to take? Not that I’m suggesting we don’t need to wait and see on this one, or that there won’t be problems down the line as the quantity of content available via these stores increases.

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