Everybody Gets an App Store

When I hear all the news about all the new app stores for the big three (Apple, Google and Microsoft), all I can think of is Opera giving away cars to her audience. “You get a Car, You get a Car, You get a Car. Every …body … gets … a … Car”. Watch the video.

Of course, giant platform-developing software companies don’t really need cars, it seems like they’re making up for it with App Stores.

iPhone has an App Store, so Windows Mobile got a Marketplace. Google Chrome got a Chrome Web Store (this one – in particular – I’ll get to in a minute). On Thursday Jan. 6, Apple launched the Mac App Store. Microsoft built a Marketplace for Windows Phone 7 and is rumored to create an App Store for Windows 8.

I can easily see the benefits of having an App Store. For beginner users, it makes it very easy to find, install and maintain applications. Also, I can easily see app stores be a big success. An obvious example is the iPhone App Store, 300,000+ apps with 7,000,000,000+ downloads.

This, of course, comes with a cost. Mostly paid by the app developers, not by the store owner. For example, Apple takes away 30% off the payment for all downloads through the app store. It’s the software equivalent of taxes. Beyond hosting your app, its updates, and including it in the search results, I’m not sure what the cost is for.

Then comes the Guidelines. For you to include any app to Apple’s app store (iPhone or Mac), your app have go through an approval process where you submit it to Apple where it would be reviewed and either accepted or rejected. Apple provides feedback on the reason why your app was rejected. Developers had different experience with the review process over time. In Sept. 2010, Apple released official guidelines for the review process which seems like a no brainer for such a process but somehow was delayed all this time.

Just like GUI (with Macintosh), and cell phones (with the iPhone), with the app review process, Apple has revolutionized Censorship. Somehow, Apple managed to make censorship cool. Look at it, unshaved, with a black turtleneck, it’s so cool and we all have to abide by it.

But nothing fascinates me more than Chrome Web Store. Wait, don’t click the link, you have to install Chrome browser first to be able to “install” any of the “apps” (wink wink). I have to say, it’s an admirable effort by Google to put together – by far – the most fancy bookmark collection I have ever seen.

How bad is the Chrome Web Store. The YouTube app of the YouTube website, which is the largest video-sharing website, a $1.65 billion valued website that got its own presidential debates. Yes, that YouTube got only 3 out of 5 stars on Chrome web store and one of the comments says it all “Nice link”.

Microsoft, as usual, late but eventually better decided to have its own App Store. Not only for the newly released Windows Phone 7, but also for Windows. Of course, they call it “Marketplace” because if they call it App Store, we might think it’s the exact same thing as Apple’s.

In the case of smart phones, since their beginning they had app stores and people got used to the idea of installing all their apps through the app store. Users have nothing to compare it to. Developers never tried to go outside the guidelines because what’s the point of developing an app that you know will be rejected by the only distribution channel available. It’s a loss that developers’ innovation be restricted like this under the banner of consistent user experience and application stability.

In the case of desktops, users do have something to compare app stores to. Developers have always worked with no guidelines to restrict what they can do with applications. Yes, this has caused applications like viruses, Trojans, and key loggers to be developed. But, these are a tiny fraction of all the applications that were developed and we can’t live without today.

Apple has pulled VLC from its App Store. VLC is an application that is essential to any computer that plays video. So when it gets pulled or rejected, it will get it’s own post on all tech blogs. But what about Joe Developer who develops the next killer app. His application won’t get a blog post when it gets rejected because Joe didn’t exactly follow the guidelines of the app store, and Joe doesn’t have a way of distributing this application other than the app store. Even if he does manage to find another distribution channel, it won’t get him the visibility of being on the vendor’s app store.

App Store Can’t be Walled Gardens. They don’t need just to have better search, or access through a browser. They need to be Open. Open to developers with no ridiculous sign up fees, or commission on every download. Open with no guidelines that require me to sign up just to read it. App stores can implement a system of recommendation where you can “Strongly Oppose” the apps you don’t like but don’t make a choice for me as a user.

If the purpose of App Stores is to offer a central point for distributing software to users, then let’s make that. But if the purpose is to make a new revenue generator, and turn platforms and its applications into a software that runs extensions and addons, then we all, developers and users, are screwed.