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World+dog has online app store

But what's in it for me?

These days every company has its own mobile application store - Nokia, Microsoft and Samsung have announced new stores in the last week or two - but what are punters actually looking for in an online store, and what's in it for the mobile developers?

Desktop software made the transition to electronic delivery pretty quickly, though content aggregators did exist for a while and some are still around: Tucows and leap to mind. These aggregators provide billing, promotion and (increasingly) peer-reviews of applications in the same way as the latest generation of mobile app stores, but most of us are buying our desktop software directly from the publishers - a trend that could scupper application stores as an revenue stream if repeated in mobile.

It is possible to prevent punters going direct to publishers - technically restricting the platform to a branded application store is what Apple is doing, and what Palm has in mind for the Pre. But the majority of smartphone users have an increasing range of application stores available to them and may find themselves grateful for that choice.

Some History

Mobile-application distribution used to be a happy duopoly between Motricity and Handango, with the latter being the majority partner. Revenue was split three ways, between the network operator, the application store and the developer - so developers got to keep between 30 and 40 per cent of the sale price.

But Apple changed all that, primarily by cutting the network operator out of the loop and passing the additional cut on to the developer. Android Marketplace works in much the same way, only the operators retain their cut and the store passes the remaining revenue to the developer - so the Android Marketplace makes no money at all, though there are other options as we shall see.

30/70, as established by Apple, seems to be settling down an industry-standard revenue, with the application store taking the smaller share to cover running costs. However, developers expecting to take home 70 per cent of the total sales are forgetting that promotion won't come cheap either.

The scum also rises

Mobile development has got an awful lot easier since Wrox published its first book on Symbian programming (littered with errors and outdated at publication, it occupies a special place in the minds of mobile developers). The Palm Pre will be entirely programmed in ECMAScript (extended to provide access to native functionality) - allowing every script kiddie and HTML "programmer" to churn out farting applications in the hope of making millions.

The OMTP's BONDI initiative is also gaining widespread industry support, bringing ECMAScript apps to a load of mobile platforms over the next year or two.

Looking at iTunes as the model other stores are trying to emulate - The most successful way to sell an applications is to be listed in the top 25 apps, which (according to Pinch Media) means shifting 20,000 copies of a free app in a 24-hour period, or 5,000 to get in the top hundred - but even the latter will lead to sales more than doubling (2.3 times, according to Pinch).

When users were swamped by PC apps they turned to magazines to help them wade through the crap, and it seems that blog writeups are fulfilling a similar role. The real goldmine, though, is to get listed as a Staff Pick or similar; this is something shoppers tend to assume is an unpartisan recommendation, which seems to be true, for the moment at least.

Next page: Cutting the crap

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