App store or app sore?

We're awash in app stores these days, but more isn't necessarily merrier for consumers or developers.

One App Store to rule them all? Apple

Apple has an app store, of course. So does Microsoft. Google has two, one for Android and now one for Wave. In fact, it's hard to find anyone who doesn't have an app store these days.

We're swimming in app stores. Or drowning.

I'm serious. At the Symbian conference in London on Tuesday, I attended a panel that was overrun with app stores. Nokia, Symbian, GetJar, Sony Ericsson, Handmark, and Handango were all promoting their respective app stores, each talking about how great theirs is.

They're probably right. They probably are all great. But how am I, as a lay consumer, going to figure out which one to use?

More particularly, how will developers decide which platforms to target?

After all, everyone wants to be a platform these days. Does that mean that no one is?

Developers may be spoiled for choice, but "choice" in this case may not be what they want. Developers need to feed their families and will follow the money. Money is more easily made when choice is manageable (which is a euphemism for "limited").

This means we'll see plenty of application developers remain with Apple (though it's debatable whether the iPhone is the land of milk and honey for anyone but Apple), but we'll also continue to see a stampede to Google Android.

At present, every other mobile platform is playing for third place, but this could change: Symbian, as a foundation, is in a good position to launch an effective challenge to both Apple and Google if it can get its marketing and execution right.

Outside of mobile, it's unclear what role app stores will play. It's nice that Google Wave is getting an app store, but it's just one more "forge" among many. Every vendor (my employer, included) seems to feel an irresistible urge to create a forge/app store where third-party developers can "add value" to their "platforms."

Do we really need these? Or do we need more general repositories like Google Code and SourceForge?

I wish I had a definitive answer. I'm just not sure that these competing app stores do anything more than appeal to vendor vanity, and they could end up causing customer confusion.

As a consumer, I don't want to have to think about sorting among competing app stores. I just want applications.

Presumably, if I use a Sony Ericsson phone, I'll automatically find myself within its app store (unless my wireless provider doesn't slot me into its app store first, that is). But if that's the case, what's the point of making a big deal over a glorified catalog of applications that work with my given device/software/etc.?

It strikes me that app stores, like the cloud, are simply a way to dress up old ideas. If they help to organize potential buyers and sellers of software, great. But I still think I'd prefer meta-repositories of applications, similar to SourceForge, than individual application repositories for every single device or piece of software that I happen to buy.

How about you?

About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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