Wednesday, July 16, 2008

iPhone App Store: Let's Hope It's Not All Fun and Games

The iPhone phenomenon seems to be a kind of Rorschach test, where you can find whatever you're looking for ...

There are all sorts of posts on data from the App store, looking at, for example, pricepoints in the app catalog, or the kinds of apps available.

These data are far from perfect (though worth a look), and in any case I hope that VentureBeat's post on the prevalence of Game and Entertainment apps turns out to be wrong.

Why? Mobile apps and mobile net usage have been waiting to "break out" in the U.S. for nearly 10 years. It's tempting to agree with the sentiment that mobile net use is reaching critical mass thanks to iPhone, but everyone in the industry has made that mistake many times before.

Successful off-deck software on phones in the U.S. has been more or less limited to games. So when I read the headline "Fun! Nearly half of all the iPhone App Store apps are games or entertainment," all I could think was "let's hope that it doesn't stay that way!"

I have no problem with Super Monkey Ball per se. It's just that if all the top app activity is in games and entertainment, then the mass psychology around the iPhone / App Store ecosystem is in danger of slipping irretrievably in the direction of "diversion" and not the enormous opportunity it really is.

Before you say I should just chill out about the Monkey Ball, consider:

Blackberry, because of its email device pedigree, was pigeonholed as a "corporate email/organizer device" years ago, even though it could do many other things. Despite RIM's attempt to sex up the brand, boost the hardware, cut prices and improve the design, it looks now like the window is closing for RIM to make any big gains. The enormous deployed base of Blackberries never translated into a general platform for mobile net-based computing.

At the moment, all of the top 10 -- and 18 of the top 20 -- paid App Store apps (over the last 24 hours) are Game/Entertainment apps. So right now, when the frenzy is at a peak, with mass media coverage of sold-out stores and consumers showing acquaintances their hot new gadget, the eyeballs are on the Super Monkey Balls.

To a lot of people, who have never seen a 3rd-party app on a phone, and who don't totally get what this is all about, the demonstration is going to look more like a Nintendo DS than a handheld computer.

Which raises a possibility: perhaps Apple was wise to restrict iPhone 1.0 to Safari-based apps, thus forcing consumers to view the device as a mini-web-tablet, rather than as a portable entertainment device.

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