iPhone Apps Store - An Insurmountable Lead?

Jun 19, 2010

Note: I wrote this on my old blog in August 2009 so I'm moving it over - obviously a lot has changed since then in the mobile space

With the Palm Pre's launch last June it finally looked like there would be finally be a worthy competitor to the Phone's dominance in the smartphone field, at least from the technology journalism field. It seems to me that the tech press, with Techcrunch as lead, have branded the iPhone the winner of the SmartPhone, largely on the success of Apple's remarkably successful App Store.

I have an iPod touch, the phone-less counterpart to the iPhone, which I've refused to buy because AT&T's service is really horrendous in my home area. To me, at least at this point, there is not much point into having a phone you can't talk on. Thus I remain hopelessly stuck on my Verizon dumbsmartphone, the LG Dare. My problems with the LG come down to some pretty basic ones:

  • The touch-screen keyboard sucks. I can't type very fast on it because when I do I mistype often. I've found, despite the fact the phone supports a landscape touch-screen keyboard I usually use the T9 version - as if I didn't have a smartphone at all!

  • The email application was really really bad. First off Verizon charges you $5 a month to use the application, which was horrendous. It takes an eternity to load, and the interface was clunky at best.

  • Finding names in the contact list is challenging at best. LG helpfully puts an alphabet selector at the top (Select F to find users with the first name F...), but the problem is the area to tap is so tiny that it becomes very difficult to hit the right key and you end up scrolling helplessly trying to find the right name.

My contact is up in August, so I'm contemplating a new phone - specifically a Palm Pre, because I've heard Sprint's service may actually work in my home. It seems to me a key criticism that their store is devoid of apps, at least when compared to Apple's, and that Apple has an insurmountable lead. I find this ironic because I see the phone OS war as quite analogous to the battle that played out between Windows and the Mac 20 years ago.

At that point Windows was by far the market leader in terms of PC installation, and generally you bought a Mac because it was "easy to use" or you liked the design. However, the big knock was that "it doesn't have the applications" that Windows did. You wanted a Spreadsheet? Wait till next year for Lotus 123 in Mac. You want an office suite - no Office for you, as it doesn't exist on the Mac. I think open source killed that problem - open source apps provided tons of code that people built on to build high quality apps for the Mac, and even now there are strong competitors even on linux for almost any productivity software you need. Games remain the one category that the Mac (and linux) remain far behind on.

I find this fascinating because people now make a similar argument about the iPhone and the app store - how can anyone possibly catch up? My answer: give it a bit of time. If the phone (or more precisely, the OS) sell, people will develop for the phone.  And as more open source apps find their way out developers will be able to create more applications with lower effort, and soon there will be a substantial catalog of Palm WebOS apps. Will there be the 50,000 apps? Perhaps not, but I suspect you'll be able to find everything you want on the Palm App store soon.