App Stores Matter in Buying a Smartphone

by Reads (10,326)

All app stores are not alike. Here, in no particular order of importance, are quick summaries of what can be found in six of them.

Apple’s App Store
Apple’s App Store is the granddaddy of them all, and by far the largest, now supplying a total of over 300,000 apps in its online shelves. Applications in Apple’s store run on top of iOS, the operating system used in Apple’s iPhone smartphones and iPad tablets.

Apple App StoreDespite the huge volumes of apps, the store is fairly well manageable. Directly from an iPhone, shoppers can either search for apps by name or browse through lists of the 25 Top Paid, Free, and “Grossing” Apps.

The App Store, however, also includes a feature called ‘in-app purchases” that can carry hidden costs. For example, in one of the App Store’s most popular games — Tap Pet Hotel — players can make in-app purchases of goodies for their cyber pet. While a vial of coins only costs 99 cents, a “trunk of treats” costs a full $99!

Most people should be aware that Apple offers the iPad tablet in addition to the iPhone. All software written for this company’s smartphone will run on this second type of device, and so it’s also listed in Apple software store. Don’t be concerned though –shoppers aren’t able to buy apps that won’t run on the device they’re using.

Google’s Android Market
First rolled out in conjunction with T-Mobile’s G1 smartphone in the fall of 2008, Google’s Android Market originally contained only 1,000 apps. Six months ago, that number had already soared past 100,000 and it has kept growing at a strong rate ever since.

As its name implies, the Android Market offers apps for the increasing numbers of smartphones that run Google’s Android OS, which include Motorola’s well-known Droid series, as well as an array of models from HTC and Samsung. At this point, every wireless carrier offers several Android models.

Some of the most distinctive apps in the Android Market take advantage of Google capabilities such as search and mapping. With the Google Goggles image recognition app, for instance, users can snap a photo of a landmark or a product barcode with their phone, and then view information about the place or product which has been automatically dug up by Google’s search engine.

Consumers will also find a much smaller number of apps — designed for Android OS 3.0, or “Honeycomb” — that are optimized to run on Android OS tablets instead. This is another example of the crossover between smartphones and tablets.

RIM’s BlackBerry App World
RIM is now trying to move its BlackBerry smartphones in more of a consumer-oriented direction, but BlackBerryies hold very long roots in the business world. Although RIM’s App World now contains games along with restaurant guides, ticket-buying apps, and other entertainment fare, there are also tons of tried-and-true apps well suited to the experienced business execs or new MBA grad. Pertinent categories range across business tools, sales, finance, time tracking, and even real estate. A few of the most universally useful RIM BlackBerry apps include Nice Office, WebEx Meeting Room, and MyFax.

BlackBerry App WorldUnlike some other stores, RIM’s App World lets you pay for apps not just by credit card, but also through PayPal.

RIM is another company that offers both smartphones and tablets. Right now, about 3,000 of the items in the App World are designed for RIM’s PlayBook, a new tablet which uses an entirely different operating environment from the RIM OS that runs on BlackBerry phones.

Microsoft’s Windows Market for Mobile
Microsoft’s Windows Market, another newcomer on the app store block, is still relatively small. Some apps in the market run on Xbox game machines, and others — amounting to more than 11,500 as of April — operate on Microsoft Windows Phone 7 devices. None of the apps run on older Windows Mobile phones.

Meanwhile, Microsoft contends that some rivals are padding their app numbers by including questionable items in their tallies. Windows Phone Director Brandon Watson, in a blog post in April summed up his company’s position:

“For us, from the beginning, we have always been focused on quality, not quantity. We recognize the importance of getting great apps on our platform and not artificially inflating the numbers of actual apps available to our customers by listing ‘wall paper’ as a category, or perhaps allowing a competitor’s apps to run on the platform to increase ‘tonnage.’ “

Microsoft also departs from the rest of the pack by customizing Windows Market for various phone makers and carriers. Along with sections for Windows 7 games and other apps, customers will come across specific areas with names like AT&T AppCenter, HTC Apps, and Samsung Zone, depending on which phone they are buying.

HP’s App Catalog
Since it was launched back in 2009, the webOS has struggled to compete against rivals like Android and the iOS. Without tens of millions of users, HP is having to work hard to draw interest from software developers. As a result, the collection of third-party apps for this platform is small. Still, there’s a variety of free and for-pay applications to choose from in the App Catalog, in all the usual categories, from games to productivity. All the standard apps are there, like a Facebook client and a version of Angry Birds.

webOS App CatalogThe webOS was first developed by Palm but later acquired by HP. The new owner (since last year) is aware of the challenges it faces, but remains upbeat about the possibilities of the webOS. Richard Kerris, the head of worldwide developer relations, said recently, “The road will be tough at times, but the payoff will be huge — and we’ll get there by listening to and working with our developers.”

HP is going to launch its first webOS-based tablet this summer, and software for this new device will surely be added to the App Catalog.

Amazon’s Appstore for Android
Back in March of this year, Amazon took a big poke at the Android Market by opening an alternative app store for Android OS phones. This takes advantage of something none of Google’s competitors offer: openness. Unlike Apple or Microsoft, consumers can install apps from stores run by rival companies.

Straight out of the starting gate, Amazon started offering apps free of charge that consumers would normally have to pay for in the Android Market. Each day, a different app goes up on the site for free, and since then, Amazon has kept raising the competitive heat. In one current promotion, users get $25 in credit to spend in Amazon’s Appstore in exchange for buying any Android OS device from Verizon Wireless.

Analysis

Amazon’s Appstore is also now offering “PC test drives” which let customers try out an app on their PC to get an idea of how it works before bothering to download it to a smartphone.

Yet, using Amazon’s site takes a bit of extra work. Instead of just clicking on the Android Market app that comes with Android OS phones, consumers need to use their phone’s browser to navigate to the Amazon Appstore. After landing on the store, they’ll need to register for an account and provide an email address or phone number. Finally, they’ll receive a link from Amazon that will let you download the Appstore to your Android OS phone.

 



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