The App Appeal

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | Updated: Feb 11 2014, 09:29am hrs
These days creating a great smartphone or tablet is no longer a guarantee of success. You need to have the app store that can push it to the next level. And app stores are all about numbers. There might be just a few thousand apps that are really worth downloading (I actually think there are just that many good apps), but until you have the many zeros to accompany the number of apps on your store, people will not take you seriously.

For instance, Apples App Store and Googles Play store both have over a million active apps. In comparison, the Windows Store has just about 1,50,000 and BlackBerry World a hundred thousand more. Even if these two stores manage to get all the top hundred apps from the bigger stores, they wouldnt have arrived until they cross the million mark. That is how tough the competition in the app world is these days.

So, how do you get all the apps Developers love the App Store, for it gives them better returns than any other store. So, the most innovative apps invariably end up there. Androids Google Play, on the other hand, is not all that monetised, but gets amazing numbers as it is the dominant player in the smartphone space. Despite being one of the most monetised platforms, primarily due to its high-end user base, BlackBerry has not been able to get the best apps. Now, however, the company seems to have called it quits by letting users sideload any Android app, in a way leaving the app headache to the user.

Powered by Nokia, Windows Phone, meanwhile, seems to be taking a completely new approach to the whole app problem. Last year, Nokia experimented with a reality show called Your wish is my app, inviting regular users to suggest ideas for apps. We were expecting a maximum of 5,000 entries, but ended up with 38,000, explains P Balaji, managing director of Nokia India. Interestingly, most of the entries were productivity apps and not trivial games that actually make up the numbers in most apps stores. A year down the line, about 1,200 of these apps are live and 300 more are being developed.

Realising that their idea has clicked big time, Nokia has opened up the second edition for a global audience and are expecting 50,000 entries. The Finnish phone-maker is also banking big time on its developer platform called Dvlup, where it is incentivising app-makers. With initiatives like these, Windows Store is slowly adding the kind of apps that users might want to download. It still does not have the numbers to take on the big two, but girdled up to be the number three smartphone OS for quite a few years to come, Windows Phone is ensuring that it does not disappoint the kind of users who opt for it. Also, being number 3 might not be so bad if you consider the estimate that 9 billion apps will be downloaded every year by users in India by 2016. Right now, this figure is around 1.6 billion.

But not everyone is in favour of the crowd-sourced approach when it comes to creating apps. Huib Klienhout, product designer of Coast by Opera, arguably the best browser made for the iPad, says it is not possible to make an app that satisfies everyone. While making an app you have to realise that you cant make an app for everyone. You have to compromise somewhere. We, for instance, will continue to focus on simplicity and not add the kinds of bells and whistles our users are demanding. When it comes to user feedback, Huib says: We have clear product value we stick to. If we dont stick to them, Coast will lose its focus. While Coast is as simple as a browser can be, Huib says his product is heavy on technology. The idea is to hide the technology from the user. That is the kind of innovation that will have to be design-driven.

So, while it is clear app stores need the big numbers to draw the crowds, how they will go about this is anyones guess. Crowd-sourced or design-driven, the users might not care. They just need the numbers that will give them confidence to move to a new app ecosystem. It is another story that they will never get to use more than a few hundred of them.

The author is editor, New Media, Indian Express Group