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App Success May Signal the End of Internet Innovation

By Erika Morphy MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jan 24, 2011 11:04 AM PT

Apple reached a milestone last week: the 10 billionth app was downloaded from its store -- the game "Paper Glider." However, the lucky downloader, who was to receive a US$10,000 App Store gift card, almost didn't collect her prize, according to press accounts. Gail Davis, a resident of Orpington, Kent, UK -- the mother of two girls who had purchased several apps, including the winner -- initially hung up on Apple, thinking she was at the receiving end of a prank call.

App Success May Signal the End of Internet Innovation

Though the milestone caused a small shockwave in the Davis family, the industry was not surprised by the App Store's attainment of it. Not at all. When all is said and done, the popularization of consumer apps -- a trend propelled not only by Apple's iOS but by other smartphone platforms as well -- will likely rank in tech history alongside the invention of the personal computer.

Certainly the masses would say so. The store launched in July 2008 with some 500 apps. Today there are more than 350,000 apps available -- not only for the iPhone and the iPod touch, but also the iPad -- another significant achievement by Apple.

What It Means

As Apple continue to rack up gains, analysts are sorting out what the trend means to the industry, to consumers and to Apple.

For starters, the role of apps in Apple's development cannot be understated. When iTunes first launched, it was seen mainly as a driver for sales of the iPod, important only in that it helped to provide a complete ecosystem for music lovers -- something the market had yet to deliver.

Fast forward today. It is difficult to say which is more important: apps or Apple's sexy devices.

"There is an old saying in the horse industry: No hoof, no horse," Laura DiDio, principal of ITIC told MacNewsWorld. "The way computing has evolved with consumers, if you don't have applications for a tech platform, the platform is worthless. We first saw this with Novell several years ago. When Windows came along, developers stopped writing for Novell."

Developers love these channels, because they have a ready-made audience, whether they're Apple lovers or Android fans, she said.

The Risks of Appfication

The "appfication" of the Internet, however, is not a uniformly good thing, DiDio cautioned. Ultimately, it limits consumers' view -- and vendors' control -- of the Internet.

"When Google first came out, researchers, analysts and reporters began to rely on it and nothing else for research because it was so easy," she noted. "But that wasn't always the best way to gather information."

The popularity of apps may eventually squelch innovation, said Brooklyn Law School professor Jonathan Askin.

The Apple App Store is a system in which developers are forced into creating within the structure and ecosystem of a given platform, compared to 10 and 20 years ago, when creative software developers were building on the open Internet -- a system that resulted in the creation of wonderfully disruptive services like Google, he said.

"Today, our most creative, independent computer and Internet minds are designing programs that will likely not change the world but merely expand the scale, scope and control of the existing platforms such as Apple, Google and Facebook," Askin told MacNewsWorld. "I suspect that we'd see more creative innovation on the Internet if designers had the latitude to build services and technologies outside of the Apple, Google and Facebook sandboxes."

When you know what you want, an app is an efficient way to getting things done, said Azita Arvani of the Arvani Group.

"If you are researching and open to new ideas and have more time on your hand, appification doesn't work very well," she told MacNewsWorld. "Appification is focused and efficient, not broad and serendipitous."

Still, for all the risks, the benefits -- at least to Apple and its ecosystem of developers -- are very clear, said Arvani, and they possibly outweigh the reservations. Simply put, apps have created a huge sales force for iOS devices.

"When they say there are 500,000 apps in Apple's App Store -- whether these apps are paid or free -- there are 500,000 developer teams that are promoting iOS devices," she observed. "Similarly, when 10 billion apps are being downloaded, it shows a huge number of users are fans of apps in the App Store and will be promoting the apps to their family and friends."

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