App, app and away - the importance of mobile apps

Features Marin Perez 12:39, Mar 16 2010

Thanks to smartphone applications, we may be entering a boom period that finally realizes the promise of mobile computing

If you listen very closely, you might just hear the emergence of a new ecosystem that could have a significant impact on the larger overall economy. Yes, I'm talking about those silly little applications on your iPhone, DROID, BlackBerry and other smartphones.

The importance of apps dawned on me yesterday while I was having some coffee and reading the newspaper. I was reading the funnies and Rhymes with Orange had a joke about the lack of apps on a can opener. It was amusing, but not gut-busting.

Then I glanced over at the cover of the Foreign Policy magazine on my coffee table and noticed it was about heady advice regarding how countries should tackle the future of war. This advice was depicted as an iPhone with the words "Killer App."

These two publications were trying to convey wildly different messages but were able to use the same metaphor because apps have permeated mainstream consciousness.

Of course, you have to give Apple credit for kicking off this revolution because its iPhone and App Store have been extremely popular. Mobile apps have been around for a long, long time but Apple's commercials and hot-selling devices have pushed these programs to the forefront. The space is getting really exciting, too; as we're starting to see apps like Foursquare utilize your location for more intimate services.

But what really excites me is that the app space is creating its own economy of sorts. It used to be that the bright young college kids would throw up a website and try to bootstrap an online business. That's still a goal for many young entrepreneurs. Increasingly, however, these young businesses are targeting the app market. There's good reason too, as a recent research2guidence report said the global app download market will grow from $1.94 billion in 2009 to a whopping $15.65 billion by 2013.

It's not just the big guys capitalizing on this market, as recent data from Flurry Analytics said roughly one in five programs in the App Store comes from an independent developer. While only Apple knows the exact measurements from the App Store (and it's somewhat of a black hole), Flurry's data is a good indication of what's going on.

"Despite the fact that the App Store is now maturing, reaching its two year anniversary this summer, we are encouraged that native iPhone application developers are still relevant, representing 20% of the heritage pie, the second largest category," Flurry said on its blog. "This means that the barrier to entry is still low enough for start-ups to enter and innovation to flourish."

The iPhone gets all the attention in the app space, but Android is gaining some steam with more than 30,000 programs in the Android Market. Research In Motion's App World is doing alright with productivity apps and Microsoft just released tools to craft programs for Windows Phone 7 Series. As smartphone proliferate, there will be enough room for a variety of players.

To a certain extent, the app boom is similar to the first Web boom because there's a ton of innovation, investment, uncertainty and outright fun. While this boom will have its equivalent of Pets.com, it certainly can also produce its own Amazon or Google that will truly capitalize on the promise of mobile computing.

Contact Marin Perez via email or follow @Marinperez on Twitter

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