GetJar: The unknown app store leader

Everyone knows that Apple has the largest mobile application store in the world, but who is second? A small company called GetJar.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
5 min read

I'm sure you've heard of Apple's App Store for the iPhone. But have you ever heard of an independent mobile app store called GetJar?

No? Well, that's not surprising. The tiny company now based in Silicon Valley has done virtually no marketing. And yet in the nearly five years it's been around, the company has managed to build the second largest application store front for mobile phones in the world, likely making it the biggest mobile app store you've never heard of.

The privately held Getjar claims it has nearly 57,000 applications in its store, making it second only to Apple in terms of total applications. Apple just announced this week that it now has more than 100,000 applications in its store.

Google's Android Market, which launched earlier this year has more than 10,000 applications. Research in Motion's BlackBerry App World has just more than 2,000 applications available today, according to estimates.

Since Getjar's virtual store went live in early 2005, about 650 million applications have been downloaded. And momentum has been growing. For the month of October, Getjar executives say the company saw its users download 55 million applications, which is a 267 percent increase over the same month a year ago when 15 million mobile applications were downloaded. And the company says that it has more than 300,000 registered developers uploading applications to its site.

Meanwhile, Apple's much-hyped and heavily marketed iTunes App Store, which is nearly twice the size of Getjar, as of September had more than 2 billion app downloads since the store was launched in July 2008. And executives at Apple recently said the company had 125,000 developers on its roster. By comparison, the Android Market has had an estimated 40 million downloads since it went live earlier this year.

GetJar got its start not as an application store but as a beta testing Web site for mobile developers. GetJar founder and CEO Ilja Laurs had started the site to allow developers a way to test their applications on a variety of handsets.

"Originally, we were trying to help developers who couldn't get access to certain phones for testing," he said. "But then developers came to us and asked if they could use the site to also distribute their applications."

And so the GetJar application store was born in early 2005. At first, the site attracted mostly hard-core mobile application fans. But over the years, word of the site has spread, and users all over the world come to GetJar to download different applications.

Unlike most of the other application stores that have been announced recently, GetJar's store offers mobile applications for almost any phone.

"With the GetJar store, consumers don't have to worry about whether they have an Android phone or a Java phone," said Patrick Mork, vice president of marketing for GetJar. "They don't need to know which model Nokia they have. We take the fragmentation out of the equation by auto-detecting what apps can run on which phones and offering consumers those applications."

The way it works is that GetJar is able to detect the type of phone a wireless subscriber is using when they connect to the GetJar mobile Web site. It can also detect the type of phone used from the regular Web site using a wireless subscriber's phone number.

A screen shot of a GetJar download page for the Facebook shortcut link. GetJar

Based on this information, GetJar is able to direct app shoppers to the applications that will work on their phones.

"If there is a BlackBerry app available and you are using a BlackBerry you will get that application," Mork said. "But if you're on a feature phone, you'll likely get a shortcut link."

This is yet another important differentiator for GetJar. Unlike device or operating system specific app stores, such as Apple's App Store or Android Market, GetJar also provides millions of consumers using basic feature phones an app-like experience, even if a specific application hasn't been developed for their particular phone.

For example, GetJar has worked with Facebook to provide a downloadable shortcut link that leads to the Facebook mobile Web site for wireless subscribers who are not using a smartphone for which a special Facebook application has been developed.

While the link is not really a native application for that specific device, the link appears on the phone's menu and provides access via the phone's browser to a mobile Web site. For consumers, the experience is very similar to that of a native application that has been downloaded to a smartphone.

"Facebook didn't have a strategy for developing applications for Motorola Razrs and Samsung Instincts" Mork said. "So they teamed up with us to get around that problem by providing short cut links. It's really not an app. But the beauty of it is that it allows any company to play in the app game from a shortcut."

And for brands, such as Facebook, the shortcut increases their mobile presence. Before it started working with GetJar, Facebook would get between 100,000 and 150,000 downloads per week from its mobile site. After the shortcut, links were available on the GetJar site and on Facebook's site, Facebook started to see 1.5 million mobile downloads per week, Mork said.

But GetJar does have some limitations. One major limitation for consumers in the U.S. is that GetJar cannot offer applications to most phones operating on Verizon Wireless's network. The reason is that Verizon uses a closed platform called BREW on many of its phones. And there is no way for third-party application developers to create applications for these devices without going through Verizon's BREW approval process. But BREW is a legacy platform for Verizon, and newer smartphones on Verizon, such as BlackBerry devices and the new Android phones, will be able to access applications from GetJar.

GetJar also doesn't explicitly serve apps to iPhone users, again because the iPhone platform is closed. But iPhone users can use the GetJar store to discover new applications and GetJar can redirect those users to the Apple App Store, where they can download the applications.

Yet another limitation is that GetJar does not offer developers the ability to charge for applications. The company has not yet figured out how to bill for these applications. Instead, application developers can monetize their applications by incorporating advertising into the application or using the app on GetJar to up-sell consumers to a more robust application in a different application store.

But GetJar does allow developers to promote their applications, and the company has developed a marketplace so that developers can bid for top promotional spots on the Web site. GetJar gets paid based on how many users download these applications. Most other application stores today do not offer developers a way to promote their applications, which makes it difficult for smaller developers to get their applications noticed.

While there is no question that Apple dominates the mobile application market today, Mork admits that Apple's push into applications has been a boon for GetJar, and likely for other app stores.

"It's undeniable that Apple has had a positive effect on our business, especially in the U.S.," he said. "But we don't really compete with Apple. Still, it's clear that the mass market is just starting to catch on. And that is largely thanks to the success of Apple and its App Store."