First, we heard of the dozens of millions of applications downloads on the iPhone - as soon as the AppStore was available. Then, it was "100 Million Apps in 60 days". Then, comes what happens when you have such a big pool of active and dynamic primordial soup - the creation of life, and continued evolution. Culminating in the gem of creation itself, the most lucrative, top-ranked download for iPhone - iFart.
So is iFart a unique phenomenon, or is this the norm?
As of today, the top Free apps on the AppStore are 5 games, 2 gimmicks (Lightsabre and Flashlight), and the Facebook client. Top paid apps? 6 games, gimmicks (PocketGuitar, Koi Pond, Face Melter) and an online radio client.
Merriam-Webster defines an application as "a program (as a word processor or a spreadsheet) that performs one of the major tasks for which a computer is used".
Games, gimmicks, iFart, "... the major tasks for which a computer is used." Is this what Apple had in mind?
If I was an iPhone cynic, I could have said "QED" and be done with it. But I guess I'm not. So what is going on here? How does this reflect the iPhone market? What does this mean for iPhone application developers?
First, there is nothing new here. Back in the late 90's, Palm software websites like palmgear.com and palmcentral.com (later renamed Handango) were initially dominated by similar applications - gimmicks (remember Mirror? or our own FanMate?) and games - including some great ones like Bejeweled and Vexed!.
Those sites were managed very similarly to the current AppStore - Top 50 Downloads. What this meant was that something that a gimmick that appeals to a lot of people and is viral, is free, and happens to come to the market early on - will rise to the top and remain there. Later, because the Top 50 Downloads chart prefers applications with a long history - it gets extremely hard to stand out, no matter how good your new application is. The "Top 50 Monthly" was a slight improvement, because if your widget was very good, it could outshine those "older" widgets.
But is this a good business eco-system? It's a system that prefers small, easy-to-understand gimmicks, that are priced at 0 or something close to it, over anything that is more complex or pricey - but has lasting value. Guess why all the top-seller iPhone apps are $0.99? What makes a Best-Selling iPhone App? - according to TIME , a best-selling iPhone app - is a $0.99 gimmick.
Is this good for the iPhone? Initially, probably it is. But over the longer term? I don't think many Light-sabre or iFart users are very excited about those apps a week or a month after they've downloaded them. And this type of experience wears off pretty quick - unless you're a teenager. Remember Facebook apps, not so long ago - the next big thing?
And in a parallel universe - we have WorldMate users who've been with us since 2000...
This goes back to the dilemma facing serious application developers when faced with the iPhone. On the one hand, it's obviously an extremely popular smartphone platform, whose users are indeed focused on downloading stuff to. On the other hand - it seems like the vast majority of them are downloading entertainment / personalization stuff, not "real" applications - Personal Productivity, Utilities, Business Apps etc. Furthermore the AppStore has a built-in preference for tiny little snippets of value (entertainment or otherwise) that will be consumed and forgotten, over more complex products that may cost more and appeal to less people, but will provide significant value over a long time. The App Store is a one-size-fit-all - comparing downloads, not volume of use, and units, not revenue.
So do we want to be a gourmet restaurant in a fast-food court? How do we market in such a marketplace?
I'd love to hear your suggestions!
Many interesting articles sprouting up. One of them - Financial Realities of the App Store