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App Store Size: Comparisons and Challenges

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Apple has announced that the App Store now has over 100,000 titles available, making it the largest application store in the world.

In verifying that claim, I checked into the app stores of the iPhone's main competitors: Android-based smartphones from various sources, RIM's BlackBerry, Nokia's smartphones, and the Palm Pre and Pixi. Here's how they compare:

Clearly, Apple's App Store is far and away the largest, at roughly 8 times the size of the Android Marketplace and vastly larger than the rest.

It's difficult to determine exact numbers for Nokia's Ovi Store, since it groups apps by which mobile phone they support, and no model I checked had more than 750 apps and 450 games available. However, in its "Any Phone" category, there were 1,384 apps and 1,232 games - clearly there are some compatibility issues that prevent any given phone from accessing all available apps.

The number of apps for the Palm Pre and the forthcoming (on 15 November 2009) Palm Pixi seems limited, but access to the Palm App Catalog has been restricted during a beta phase that ends in December 2009. At that point, Palm plans to open access to the Palm webOS developer program, and the number of apps in the Palm App Catalog should increase significantly.

Of course, size isn't everything. The real test of Apple's model for the iPhone and the App Store will come once these other app stores are fully mature and developers can determine which platforms provide the most return on investment. Apple may have 100,000 apps in the App Store and can boast of well over 2 billion downloads, but many of those apps are hardly ever downloaded, and of those that are, only about 1 percent garner a long-term audience, according to Pinch Media's statistics.

Will these other platforms offer a higher return on investment to developers? Right now, the App Store is suffering in that department. Alan Oppenheimer of Open Door Networks, co-developer of the shockingly popular Envi Web-image slideshow apps, told me, "The App Store is sort of like the traffic paradox: the roads are so crowded that no one wants to drive on them."

Apple may crow about the App Store's size, but size is also the App Store's greatest challenge. It can be nearly impossible to find apps within the App Store, and although Apple has put some effort into the problem, organization and discoverability haven't improved all that much since the App Store's launch.

Even now, for instance, searching for "race timer" in the App Store app on the iPhone returns just two hits, whereas the same phrase used via iTunes on the Mac returns 22 hits, including an app called "RaceTimer" that didn't show up in the iPhone app's results. Or, for more giggles, just try searching for apps using the word "dog" in iTunes and see how many hits you get (roughly 800). Then compare to a search on "dogs" (maybe 150 or so).

Categorization remains troublesome, and, if anything, has become even more obscure with iTunes 9 and the new iTunes Store interface, which seemingly tries to hide what little organization the App Store has. The trick is to hover over the App Store "button" at the top of the iTunes Store window; a downward-pointing triangle appears, indicating that the button is actually a menu, and clicking it reveals the 20 different categories. Of those categories, only Games offers sub-categories (19 of them, including Action, Adventure, Arcade, Board, etc.). But you'd think that the Travel category, which contains over 7,000 apps, could be broken up more as well.


Apple does ask developers for keywords describing their apps, but exactly how that information is used remains unclear and highly controversial. Some developers even report having downloads of their apps drop precipitously after entering keywords, and I've heard that Apple may be changing how the App Store's search engine uses keywords on a regular basis, making it difficult to come up with functional strategies.

Regardless of how Apple uses keywords now, they're clearly not exposing this to users in a helpful fashion. I could imagine a progressively navigable tag cloud, where clicking one tag (dog) would display another tag cloud built from tags held in common by the apps sharing the selected tag (training, pictures, whistle, health), and so on. That particular suggestion may prove cumbersome, but it's not like the App Store is anything but cumbersome now, and Apple would do well to start exposing whatever additional metadata it has to users.

Honestly, I don't see Apple letting the App Store collapse under its own weight, but with all these other app stores coming online and gaining momentum, Apple needs to solve these problems sooner rather than later.

 

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Comments about App Store Size: Comparisons and Challenges

I didn't read the whole article because I'm at work but why did you list Palm's app catalog with only 96 apps (Nov. 209)? As of right now they have 314 apps. It's not 2,000 or more but it's still a lot more than 96. Just an FYI. Not sure where you got your info from.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-11-04 13:50
Where are you seeing 314? I went to the page I linked to and counted them manually, since I didn't see any other listing or count.
314 apps in the instore app catalog on the palm pre (i have the phone and im looking at it right now)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-11-05 05:30
Ah, from the horse's own mouth... Palm must not be maintaining that App Catalog Web page. I'll update the article.
The stores listed are the stores from each manufacturer and indeed Apple have the largest but on other phones than the iPhone there are 3rd party stores eg. Handango and some developers run their own stores.
Counting apps just in the manufacturer's own store is perhaps a little unfair to the other guys.
Nokia's Ovi store is also notoriously lacking with many developers on Symbian not wanting their apps on it. The difference in numbers between phones on Ovi is dependent on which version of Symbian - eg. S60 v3 Feature Pack 1 or 2 for most of the non-touch phones or S60 v5 for the touch models. Screen sizes vary too hence the E71's software catalogue being landscape but N series being portrait.
Apple avoids all that by essentially having one model. It'll maybe change when they introduce a different screen size which they'll surely have to do soon to catch up with the latest models from competitors with higher resolution screens.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-11-05 05:32
Interesting - do these independent stores (like Handango) carry significant numbers of apps?

Thanks for the details on the Symbian versions. I figured it was something like that, but couldn't determine it from the store itself.

I'll be very curious to see how Apple handles different resolution screens if the much-rumored Apple Tablet ever appears.
Handango have been going since the days of the Palm Pilot so I'd imagine they're the biggest of the 3rd party stores. I couldn't find a figure of how many apps though.
Cintra  2009-11-04 21:36
100,000 apps! I see that number more as a disadvantage. 10,000 Android apps is more than enough for me! Quality and usefulness are more important than quantity..
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-11-06 06:54
I've updated the number for the Android Marketplace based on Rob Pegoraro's statistic in his recent Droid review, and for the Palm App Catalog based on what commenters with Palm Pre phones reported seeing.
Butch Foote  2009-11-09 18:22
Imagine if every shopping mall was one Walmart with everything that was purchasable. All consumer product companies would hunger to place their products at Walmart because there's no other outlet. You could go on and on and on looking for something, but comparative advice would be hard to get. The problem for Apple and all app buyers is that Apple is a single, very inefficient gateway to far too many apps. The longer they try to control the entire space, the more time that competition has to allow a vibrant, free and open market for their apps. In the end, this monolithic closed approach could make the iPhone, just too much trouble to deal with. Sound familiar. Apple got it wrong the 1st time around with the Mac. Doing it wrong again would be the 2nd worst business decision their corporate history.
Simon Woodward  2009-11-09 20:27
The biggest problem for me as an end user, is the App store not having an effective set of filters, so that you could include & exclude selected keywords and/or categories, and include things like number of downloads, or reviews lodged. It would nice to have a "MyStore" too, so that you could save search profiles, and bookmark interesting looking apps for later scrutiny.
Iain Boyd  2009-11-10 01:02
The App store, while marvellous, definitely needs culling. I've long since given up trying to find apps by drilling down from the top in the iTunes store. I have come to realise that the only time I investigate and install new apps is when vendors known to me advertise the fact that they now offer an iPhone implementation (e.g. Acrylic's Wallet), or I read about something of interest in an article (e.g. Novation), or I like the look of one of the featured apps in an iPhone press ad. (e.g. Tom-Tom). In fact, from the initial enthusiasm and 'app-bloat' of those early iPhone days (maybe 40 or 50 apps) I have cut down to a core set of maybe 15, and wish I could get rid of some of the Apple defaults.

Remember the question we used to ask of Windows: "What's the point of having 100,000 apps, if the six you want are on the Mac?". How did we get into the 'mine's bigger than yours' game?
Robert Morgan  2009-11-18 07:25
Another hurdle facing the App Store is the onerous and sluggish approval process, which is causing some developers to stop making new apps. A case in point is Second Gear Software, which has a great desktop to do app, Check Off, that would be perfect for the iPhone. However, the developer says, "There are no plans to do an iPhone version at this time as Apple's restrictive and developer hostile AppStore is not something I'm interested in investing in."
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-11-19 13:14
Turns out there's another mobile app store out there, called GetJar, that claims to have about 57,000 apps. Worth reading about if you're tracking this space.

http://www.zdnetasia.com/news/communications/0,39044192,62059162,00.htm