As smartphones grow more sophisticated, application stores-the online sites from which users download free or for-fee applications-are becoming as much a metric for business and consumer shoppers as the device itself. It doesn't matter how snazzy a new smartphone is if the things that folks can do with it are limited. App stores are the vehicles by which devices grow more useful.
This is the context of this WirelessWeek story on new numbers from AndroLib.com. The site says that there may be as many as 10,000 applications available on the Android Marketplace-a good deal more than the 6,000 or 7,000 thought to be available before, but far less than the 70,000 or so the story says are available for the iPhone. The story also offers interesting stats on free versus paid apps.
This is not to say that devices are trivial, of course. The maturation of the application stores is happening in parallel with an increasingly furious race to introduce the hottest new device. This week, HTC introduced the Android-based Tattoo. CNET says that the Tattoo is the second phone to use the HTC Sense user interface, which offers a number of personalization options.
But it is difficult to overestimate the importance of the app stores. Things seem to be looking up for Android, which is overseen by Google and other members of the Open Handset Alliance. What is happening may have been part of the initial long-term game plan, which focused in part on attracting good developers from the start. Indeed, it's nice to know that the creative battle between the various smartphone players and their buddies on the service provider side will be waged on a variety of fronts, including on-device hardware and software, network quality and application marketplaces.
And it's a battle that will go on interminably -- and with new players joining the fray. Within this bigger feature on progress being made by the Android open source operating system, eWEEK's Dan Reisinger addresses the issue of marketplaces. There are two very important points: One is that while Android has considerably less available than Apple-estimates for both are lower than in the WirelessWeek piece-it says that Google is outdistancing what Palm offers for the Pre and Research in Motion for the BlackBerry in its App World. The other point is that it is relatively easy for developers to port iPhone apps to Android, which provides an relatively easy way for Android to bulk up.
"Deep Throat's" mantra during Watergate-or at least in the screen version of Richard Nixon's downfall, "All the President's Men"-was that Woodward and Bernstein should "follow the money." Likewise, it seem that folks interested in the smartphone wars are best advised to follow the app stores, for they provide as good-or, perhaps better-perspective on what is going on as the rapidly changing specs of the phones themselves.