11/03/10

Why you want a world with multiple app stores

Mozilla LabsSmartphone users currently live (mostly) in a world with only one app store - the app store which is provided by their operating system provider. Having a single app store makes life easy - no choice means you don't have to battle with the paradox of choice.  Tight integration into the OS layer makes purchasing apps a cinch (though I still wonder why I can't pay for my iPhone apps through the already established billing relationship with my cellphone provider).  A heavily curated store ensures that I don't download software which might contain unwanted content (e.g. porn) or is not authentic (e.g. content from Disney which doesn't come from or is not authorized by Disney).  A single source for all apps also means that I don't need to look anywhere else - there is only one place to find apps. But all this comes with a very high price. Most of us have heard the stories of developers who are grappling with the approval process of app stores (and sometimes even Pulitzer price winners can't get their app listed).  More importantly than the simple fact that the rules made up by a store don't allow an app to be distributed is the fact that in this world, the author of the app doesn't have any other choice:  Choice of a different app store with different rules and choice of simply putting the app up on his own site and distributing it through his own means. Further the lack of competition in app stores means that as a developer you have to accept the economics of the deal.  No negotiation, no competition for content between stores and no competition between stores for the customer (and stores might choose to compete on other dimensions than price alone - think service for example). From an end-user perspective a single store nearly always results in limited innovation - there is simply no strong economic incentive for the store operator to go out of his way to provide a great user experience for the customer.  Current stores nearly unisono suffer from poor search functionality, lack of social discovery features, lack of pricing features (bundles, buy one get one free, etc)...  In a world where stores compete with each other, one can be confident that these problems will be solved (either by the established players or by new entrants who use this as a way into the market). Don't get me wrong - all this comes also with a prize: This world is just a bit messier than the squeaky clean world of single, tightly-controlled app stores.  But it's a price well worth paying as this world is a more vibrant, more dynamic, more innovative place - and it's a better place for both the developer and the user. In summary - it's a somewhat bizarre artifact of the times we are living in, that we accept an app economy which is flawed on so many levels.  We wouldn't accept this world when buying shoes, books or our entertainment products. So let's not accept it - let's build something better.