Samsung Leaps Into Roiling App Store Arena

Korean electronics giant Samsung on Monday announced that it will launch a mobile application store in Europe on Sept. 14.

This follows the release of its mobile widget software development kit (SDK) around mid-August and its unveiling in July of the Samsung Application Seller Site, a portal geared toward mobile app developers and resellers.

Samsung’s entry comes at a time when the mobile app market is getting pretty crowded. Will it succeed?

Samsung’s Mobile App Store

Samsung will roll out the app store in the UK, France and Italy first, according to reports. It will then launch the store in another 30 countries over the coming months.

The apps will reportedly be written for Samsung’s Omnia smartphones. Users will initially be able to select from about 300 apps, including games and e-readers. This will increase to about 2,000 by the end of the year.

Omnia owners will have to download a software upgrade to access the apps on the site.

Samsung unveiled updates to its Omnia handset line at the CommunicAsia information and communication technologies expo held in Singapore in June. These included the Omnia II and the OmniaPRO B7610.

Other Mobile App Store Moves

In July, Samsung launched the Samsung Application Seller Site, a portal for developers and resellers. This will license third-party companies to sell Samsung apps.

It includes links to Samsung Mobile Innovator, a site for developers for the Windows Mobile, Symbian and Java platforms.

About mid-August, Samsung unveiled the mobile widget SDK (software developer kit) for its TouchWiz user interface on Mobile Innovator. This SDK will let developers create widgets for different Samsung phones using different operating systems, including the company’s own proprietary OS.

The Samsung Mobile Widget SDK is built on the open source Eclipse platform. Samsung will host its first Widget Developer Camp at the Hyatt Regency hotel in San Francisco September 11 through 13.

Gotta Have the Apps

Holding a DevCamp is pretty standard stuff — Microsoft held a WinMoDevCamp on its Redmond campus around mid-August and is planning to hold more in seven cities around the world, including London, Toronto and Singapore.

However, Samsung’s a device maker, not a wireless carrier. Why is it getting into the mobile app business? “It’s a competitive differentiator,” explained Julien Blin, principal analyst and CEO at JBB Research. “Most of the handset vendors are jumping on the app store bandwagon.”

The lure of profits also plays a part — the spectacular success of Apple’s App Store has mobile handset manufacturers and carriers salivating, and the mobile apps market is a rapidly growing one.

“Through mid-July, Apple’s app store had reached 1.5 billion downloads, and it now has over 65,000 apps, which is almost double the 35,000 it had in March,” Laura DiDio, principal at ITIC, told the E-Commerce Times. “Is there any market that’s hotter than wireless remote mobility?”

Getting the Developers

Apple’s app store numbers may be staggering, but will Samsung’s DevCamps attract developers to work on its platform?

That could be tough. “Even Nokia, being a big company, has struggled to get third-party developers to develop applications for their phones,” Allen Nogee, principal analyst for wireless technology and infrastructure at In-Stat, told the E-Commerce Times. “Microsoft has the same problem, although RIM (Research In Motion) isn’t doing too badly.”

Apple is successful in the mobile app business because its apps can run on the iPhone as well as iPods, so they’re not confined to just one platform, Nogee said. “Developers want to create apps for platforms that will maximize their income,” he explained. Also, the iPhone and Apple have strong brand recognition.

Battling in a Crowded Market

The tremendous business opportunity posed by mobile apps has proved very attractive. This year alone, several mobile phone manufacturers and wireless carriers have announced plans to enter the market.

They include Samsung’s arch-rival LG Electronics, which in July launched an online store for mobile phone applications. In April, RIM, maker of BlackBerry smartphones, launched BlackBerry App World, its own app store. Also in April, the Symbian Foundation announced plans to launch a mobile app warehouse carrying applications from third-party developers.

The battle’s going to heat up, JBB’s Blin told the E-Commerce Times. “We’ll see more carriers jumping on the app store bandwagon,” he said.

Despite this, Samsung may have a fighting chance because of its prominence in the handset market, Blin said. Samsung took second spot in global mobile handset shipments after Nokia, according to IDC’s second-quarter figures.

“Samsung has been gaining share from Nokia, especially in emerging markets,” Blin said. “So it’s well-positioned to monetize this new revenue opportunity.”

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