Applications stores have been around for quite a while, and application download sites have been a staple of the Internet almost since there was an Internet. But applications stores really took off in the last three years through Apple's efforts to enable its iPhone with a rich variety of certified applications. No coincidentally, Apple, also figured out a way to make money as the gatekeeper for applications largely developed by third parties.
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The number of downloads [is] projected to grow from just short of 2 billion this year to more than 6.5 billion by 2014.
Frost & Sullivan
As a result of Apple's success, other manufacturers have introduced their own smartphone applications stores. Both RIM and Blackberry have opened stores on the Web and have a growing library of titles available, although not as robust as Apple's 65,000 titles. Even Google has an application store and is preparing to serve the growing market of Android-enabled phones.
Application stores are poised to evolve into a whole new modality, however, as services in the consumer communication space morph into integrated services. Integrated services are those that work on any delivery medium that the consumer may be using: cable, DSL, wireless, wireline or satellite. And rather than being tied by transaction to one delivery medium, an integrated service can simultaneously exist on several. Imagine email that you can view on a PC, move seamlessly to a TV set and then finish on your wireless device. This age is coming and will require a different kind of application and a different kind of application store to service it.
Clearly application stores represent a new way of consuming communications-enabled applications. Apple's brilliance was to ensure that applications obtained from its store could be downloaded easily and directly to the wireless device, and once downloaded, would work instantly and correctly. Suddenly consumers didn't have to be IT gurus to enable new functionality on their phones.
Integrated services applications will require carrier certification
This new paradigm has generated a huge demand for such applications, and the number of downloads is projected to grow from just short of 2 billion this year to more than 6.5 billion by 2014, as illustrated in a new Stratecast study, Applications Stores: the rise of Self Provisioned Service.
Integrated services are likely to accelerate the growth of smart phone application downloads. In an integrated environment, the user will be able to download an application that works on a smartphone, but will be just as at home on the home television set. Applications offered through an applications store will be downloadable from any device, and depending on the networks to which a consumer has access, will work comfortably over any. As a result, applications will need to be certified not only by the device vendor, but by the carriers over whose networks these applications will be expected to work.
Additionally, application stores will need to interact with more than wireless devices. There will need to be the capability to download applications directly to any number of non-wireless devices such as PCs and even television sets. As services become ever more integrated, application stores will increasingly be supported by conventional carriers and operators.
As an example, Verizon's new application store for its FiOS service represents applications that can be downloaded into the local set top box for use with FiOS services. Soon these may morph into services that can also run on the wireless device as well.
The bottom line is that applications have become as commoditized as downloadable music. Increasingly, consumers will worry less about exactly where the application runs and more about what the application does. They will expect that the application will be available anywhere they are and regardless of what device they are using to access it.
About the author: Mike Jude is a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan in charge of the consumer communication services practice. He brings 30 years of experience in technology management in manufacturing, wide-area network design, intellectual-property management and public policy. Jude holds degrees in electrical engineering and engineering management and a Ph.D. in decision analysis.