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I have recently been reading discussions going around about T-Mobile's application store vs. Apple's app store for the iPhone. One of the main debates is who should be offering the store, the carrier, the manufacturer or someone else? Who will win this 'battle' in the future?
Of course we all know Apple's App Store is specific to the iPhone. From my experience and what I have read, the user experience of downloading an app from Apple's App Store is something to write home about. It's by far the best mobile user experience I've ever had. However, I've never been interested in purchasing and downloading apps from Microsoft or Verizon. Instead, I've headed straight to the developer's site or simply didn't bother. I don't think I'm alone in this situation. There are three reasons why they may not have have never purchased an app from their respective carriers:
Apple, in my opinion, solves these issues. The developers set the cost, not the carrier. A ton of great applications exist in Apple's App Store to please a variety of users with varying interests. I would suggest that the graphics and user interfaces are usually superior to applications on other mobile platforms and sets them apart from what carriers can currently provide.
That being said, most iPhone users are appear to be technically savvy. While it's simple enough for mainstream users to use, it's marketed to early adopters. You can bet your bottom dollar they know what they're doing. In turn, the App Store is a reflection of the iPhone userbase.
On the other hand, there is the T-Mobile app store. As you can imagine, the value is that instead of offering it to a specific phone, T-Mobile wants to take things one step further and open up a platform for all of their mobile devices. Who can blame them? They get to set the cost, they get most of the revenue, and they can target their full customer base. I wouldn't be surprised if other carriers follow suit.
To make matters slightly more confusing, consider Android Marketplace. Android Marketplace is unique in its openness as any content developer can sign up and upload content for an immediate availability on Android Market, which is a significant change from premium-only content. Initially the marketplace is for free applications, and then will have the ability to charge for the applications "and more features such as versioning, multiple device profile support, analytics, etc.". The Android Marketplace, unlike Apple's App Store or T-Mobile's app store, will allow any developer to post any application. There is no approval process or certification required. At the same time, it is unclear how these applications make their way to phones that don't support Android.
What's the future hold here? As a mobile consumer, am I more likely to go to my carrier's store (i.e., T-Mobile) to buy my services? Or my manufacturer's store (i.e., Apple)? Or the underlying platform (i.e., Android)? I am not sure of the answer, but I expect to see significant competition in this area for several years as vendors fight for my dollars.