The mobile application explosion

When it comes to apps, it's the iPhone and then everyone else, but new stores from Nokia, Palm, and Microsoft could change that

Despite an overall decline in cell phones sales due to the bad economy, smartphone sales are expected to grow. If you ask me, a large part of the appeal is that you can continually enhance smartphones by downloading and installing new applications.

You know all about iPhone App Store. But with new stores from Nokia, Palm, and Microsoft on the horizon, this could be the year of the mobile application, with competition resulting in a bounty of tasty choices. A recent report from the Global Intelligence Alliance Group (GIA) gives Apple's App Store the No. 1 position in the marketplace. Well, duh, guys. But Apple is going to need to stay on its toes to keep its top spot.

[ What's it like to code for mobile? Check out Peter Wayner's article "Developer's-eye view of smartphone platforms." ]

While Windows Mobile has the largest variety of applications and handsets, many are only barely mobile-specific, and there's no central place to purchase them. Apps are spread across dozens of third-party stores and Microsoft's answer to the problem -- Skymarket -- has no launch date. The BlackBerry Application StoreFront (expected as soon as next month) is likewise attempting to rein in control from third-party sites. Although it does offer a better deal for developers (reimbursement of 80 percent of revenue versus the standard 70/30 split) and has partnered with PayPal, RIM has the challenge of making BAS attractive to consumers without alienating its business base.

Palm is putting its eggs in the application basket as well with its recently announced webOS Software Store, which currently holds around 1,500 titles. Plenty of buzz surrounds the new webOS and the Pre, which may help Palm regain its reputation, but only if developers feel it's worth the effort.

Nokia also threw its hat in the ring with its Ovi Application Store (which has already experienced a hiccup). Nokia has dozens of handsets ready for apps. Expected to launch later this year, Ovi is supposed to "suggest" applications based on user profiles and location.

And finally, Android has been has been building momentum fast. In the space of three months, the Android Marketplace grew eight times over and recently announced paid apps and a return policy. But Andoid's slice is still small and will continue to be until more handsets are available. Without question, lots more will be this year. Across all these platforms, competition and innovation is going to result in some pretty incredible technology.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.