Is 2009 the year of the app store?

JavaOne panelists talk up trend of online app catalogs and discuss the opportunities app stores present, particularly in the mobile space

The year 2009 is shaping up as the year of the app store, a Sun executive conjectured Wednesday during a panel session at the JavaOne conference.

At the San Francisco-based event, executives from such companies as Sony Ericsson, Sun Microsystems, Orange, and Indaba Music noted the growth of app stores, which provide online resources for users to purchase applications.

"It's the year of the app store across the industry," said panel moderator Eric Klein, vice president of Java marketing at Sun, which itself unveiled a beta version of its Java Store for Java applications this week. Most of the panelists were from companies with app stores, he noted.

[ Also at JavaOne, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison reassured attendees that the company would continue to support Java once the Oracle-Sun merger is complete. ]

Companies like Apple with its App Store for the iPhone also are players. Although these stores can provide applications for various types of systems, including desktops and cell phones, panelists mostly focused on the mobile space.

Java phone builder Sony Ericsson is expanding developer access to its own PlayNow arena store, announcing on Tuesday that applications will be offered on the platform. The store has offered products such as ring tones, music, and games. Developers can submit applications to Sony Ericsson beginning July 1.

Orange, a telecommunications operator in Europe, has had a store for years, said Steve Glagow, vice president at Orange Partner. But he saw a downside to the proliferation of such stores.

"I struggle a little bit with all of the announcements of all the application stores because there's a plethora of choice out there for the end consumer. And in a sense, it creates a little bit of confusion in terms of where do they go to find what they're looking for," he said.

An app store, though, helps a consumer build an affinity toward a handset, he said. "They actually keep it for a longer period of time," Glagow said. It is difficult to search 25,000 applications via a small handset device, so Orange can present applications that fit a customer's profile, he said.

Sony plans promotion efforts for applications. "We're really going to try and be very active in promoting applications within our store that we decide are going to be fantastic ones," said Bill Maggs, head of developer and partner engagement for North America at Sony Ericsson.

"[The store] will not be a gigantic catalog with a search engine," he said.

Sun's Jeet Kaul, senior vice president of Java of engineering, predicted an eventual reduction in the number of stores, "Eventually, there will be consolidation. Now is not the time," Kaul said.

After the session, industry analyst Al Hilwa, program director for IDC's Application Development Software research, stressed that app stores are not a panacea; the key to success is attracting good applications to a platform. "I think the app store has been trendy," Hilwa said. "I think too many vendors think it's the solution to all their problems and it's not."

Maggs noted the growth in mobile devices as the new interface of choice. "We're shifting over from [the] computer world to the mobile [device] being the main experience device that we have," said Maggs.

Sony also announced plans to extend its mobile Java platform into its entry 3G mobile phone portfolio. Games, applications, and content developed for Sony Ericsson Java Platform will offer an opportunity for developers to extend content creation into the entry 3G segment.

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