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Nokia launches own AppStore, so does Samsung, and everyone else

By on February 9, 2009
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TechCrunch is reporting on a rumour that Nokia is about to launch its own version of the AppStore for phones that use the Symbian OS. It is expected to be announced during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona (16th-19th February).

The rumour originated on Russian language blog Mobile-review.com. A number of commentators argue that it makes sense for handset manufacturers to want to control the Applications store for their handsets, which enables them to ensure quality control, compatibility and ease of use.

But with Samsung launching their own AppStore last week, the stage is set for further consumer confusion as every handset manufacturer (and then every operator) tries to grab control of the consumer relationship.

One of the reasons (and there are many) that the iPhone has been so successful is the ease of use of the AppStore. BusinessWeek reports the analysis of Pelago CEO Jeff Holden which shows that the 13 million iPhone users have downloaded as much software as the 1.1 billion other mobile phone owners combined. The combination of tech-savvy early adopters, a great user interface and an intuitive AppStore have given Apple a dominating lead.

The problem is that now everyone wants to emulate that success. And since the AppStore is so successful and is software-, rather than hardware-, based (meaning that a rollout can take place faster), it looks like a good first step.

But there are a number of problems with this strategy:

  • Apple has loads of experience with building a compelling and usable online store through iTunes. The other players tend are bringing hardware skills to building a compelling consumer portal. Designing a simple, accessible consumer store is much harder than it looks
  • Nokia itself already has a number of competing content/download initiatives including N-Gage, Mosh, Download! and Software Market, creating consumer confusion even within the Nokia brand.
  • The nascent mobile games market was all but destroyed by operators trying to control the content experience. They had little knowledge, experience or desire to build a fabulous content destination, and it shows in the terrible consumer experience of purchasing games for mobile phones.

So the danger here is that many groups will want to emulate the success of the AppStore. This includes operators, handset manufacturers and platform providers such as Google with its Android platform. And each one that launches a new store will confuse the public, take a slice of revenue that would otherwise go to developers and potentially reduce the size of the overall market as consumers turn away from complexity.

I guess my point is this: Apple’s advantage is not just the AppStore. It’s that the company knows how to make an integrated hardware  and software offering that is simple to use and offers compelling content. Other companies that try to replicate just bits of the jigsaw will only succeed in confusing the market.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com