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The need for an open platform
In spite of all this enthusiasm, everything is not hunky dory in the kingdom of Steve Jobs. Before your application gets listed on the App Store, it has to go through a review by Apple. The stated purpose of this review is to block malware and illegal applications but, of late, Apple has started rejecting applications without giving any specific reasons. Initially, it caused a little unrest amongst the developer community but recently this unrest morphed into a full-fledged backlash when Apple started rejecting those applications that compete with its own offerings.
Fraser Speirs, developer of a popular iPhone app called "Exposure", declared that he will not be writing another application for Apple until Apple stops its monopolistic practices. Industry experts agree that such ambiguity and monopolistic tactics can spoil the iPhone party and turn developers towards other platforms that are eager to welcome them. The recently launched Android Marketplace, for Google's mobile operating system, is one prime example.
There is more to this issue than just a validation of a few applications. The real question is to define the boundary of an 'open platform'. Whenever we choose to call a system 'open', it implies that anyone can write any application that doesn't violate the terms of usage. Historically, every successful platform ensures a level playing field that doesn't allow any special treatment to the platform owner.
Experts agree that if Apple wants to morph the iPhone into a widespread developer platform, then it should not resort to such tactics. In the past, such openness has done wonders for desktop OS platforms, like Windows, and Web-based social platforms such as Facebook.
A competitive landscape
The success of the iPhone App Store has attracted a lot of attention. Every player in the mobile value chain has understood the latent potential of mobile applications and the benefits of facilitating application discovery and usage. It is not just the competing handset manufacturers who are eyeing this market, but everyone from telecom operators to VAS (value added services) companies wanting to come up with their version of an App Store.
Market leader Nokia has started an aggressive push on its content and application distribution initiatives, Ovi and MoSH. Nokia has a formidable reach by means of distribution channels and an installed base. In addition to market leadership, Nokia has all the right partnerships to pull this through, having recently bought a controlling stake in Symbian and made it open source.
Google has announced the Android Marketplace, an application discovery engine for its open handset alliance (OHA) and Android-based phones. OHA is trying to lure developers by celebrating the virtue of being 'open' and highlighting the fact that Android will support JAVA-based applications. What this essentially means is that, theoretically, a lot of existing software can easily be ported to the Android platform.
Some telecom operators are planning to come up with app stores, and their secret weapon is their billing relationship with the end users. If telecom operators play their cards properly, this can be a huge differentiator, an application store that has a 100 per cent alliance with the consumer's billing system.
It is evident that in the next two to three years, a number of application stores will be fighting for the attention of mobile users. In such circumstances, it is only natural to fear an oversupply. But enthusiasts are claiming that this is just the beginning of a new era. "All these predictions of oversupply are vastly exaggerated. The mobile phone user base is big enough to support multiple app stores. Market forces are the best judge. There might be a consolidation few years down the line but I don't see any immediate threat in the next couple of years," says Goyal.
It is unclear who the winner in this race will be or if there will be a clear winner at all. But the two groups that will emerge as clear beneficiaries in this frantic competition are application developers and customers. We look forward to the app store revolution.