Mobile App Stores – The Cost of “Discovery”

So we’ve been watching the iPhone App store closely of course – 10,000 apps 300 million downloads and counting. We’ve been wondering what the evolution would be, and in a sense it is turning into a subset of the mobile apps space as a whole. Discovery costs.

We’ve always talked about 3 main issues with mobile applications, Porting, Discovery and Distribution. What is it like in Apple’s world?

Well – that is easy enough since there is only one iPhone spec to develop against.

Apple certainly took care of distribution – getting an app on your iPhone is about as easy as it gets – iTunes.

Ah – now the interesting part. How do people become aware of your app? In the long run, think about it this way – if you record a song and put it on iTunes, are you going to get rich? Probably not unless you are already a successful artist. Sure there are a few hits that grow in popularity there, but for the most part, just putting something on iTunes isn’t good enough.

You’ve somehow got to get to the top of a list. How do you do this?

* Pay for it (sponsorship – costs money)

* Be popular (that costs money too)

* Get “chosen” as a favourite

* Get blogger coverage or other PR

* Or…

… as this article at fortune points out – you give your app away, or sell it for 99 cents to get popular enough to climb up a top 10 list.

The article goes on to say that for iPhone developers and designers, creating an app can cost $ 80,000 according to Craig Hockenberry’s open letter to Steve Jobs – which may or may not earn a return in iTunes. Now even if that number is a little high – this is driving developers to focus on simple and cheap apps recognizing that people right now are willing to pay much for something as an impulse buy.

This has generated a lot of discussion in particular about what Apple, or developers should do, but in the end when you build something that can only be sold in one store, you are at the mercy of that store and its policies. That is the price you pay to have Porting and Distribution solved for you (at least with Apple anyway). Will the Andriod Market or the Blackberry Application Storefront change this – or just continue to make Porting a headache?

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