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An Appetite for Apps

Apple leads the way in the amazing mobile applications market.

By Barry Myers

Software programs designed specifically for your mobile phone are all the rage right now. The variety of these mobile applications, or apps for short, is breathtaking, covering everything from games to mobile social networks, GPS services, camera enhancements, weather updates, restaurant commendations, mobile TV, and all sorts of tools for the power business user.

Mobile applications are not new. They have actually been available for years at dedicated websites like Handango and Handmark, where you could download games, ringtones and a host of other apps for your phone. So what’s changed recently?

There are smartphones…and then there’s the iPhone

The first change was the devices themselves. Today’s smartphones are mini computers with amazing displays disguised as phones. This allows developers to create much more advanced mobile applications to run on them. In turn, this has caused a veritable gold rush by companies to tap into the mobile experience, as we all spend more and more time staring at the screens on our ever present devices.

The other change came from, wait for it…Apple! No surprise here really. Apple didn’t invent the MP3 Player or the smartphone. They just took a look at what was out there and vastly improved on it. Now they’ve done the same for apps by making them available right from your iPhone. No PC download or transfer required.  

Since the launch of the Apple App Store last July, iPhone owners have downloaded 500 million mobile applications for use on their iPhones. Apple offers an astounding 20,000 applications across 20 categories on its App Store, the vast majority of which are either free or no more than $3.00.

Not just games

So far, games are leading the way. Who wouldn’t want to while away the hours playing Monopoly ($4.99) or iCopter ($0.99) on their iPhone. But there are lots of great free games like Arcade Bowling and Zombie Attack too.

Your iPhone can even operate like a Wii controller on Super Monkey Ball, where you guide a cute little monkey encased in a transparent ball to victory by tilting and rolling him through a variety of slopes and turns.

But games really are just the beginning. The number one download last December was something called iFart, which, you guessed it, allows your iPhone to emit farting noises! But, if iFart isn’t quite your taste, there’s always iBeer. iBeer turns your iPhone into a virtual glass of beer that you then virtually drink by tilting it up to your mouth.

And remember how you would hold up your lighter to get a band to play an encore at those rock concerts you used to go to? Well, with the free Virtual Zippo app, you never have to worry about burning your fingers again because this app turns your iPhone into a virtual lighter!

How about a mobile app that purports to be able to predict your mood and display it on your iPhone? That’s what the free MoodPhone app claims it can do.

Entertainment is another big category at the App Store. Pandora, this week’s Website of the Week, has a free app that lets you stream your favorite music to your iPhone just like on their website. Another recent WSOTW, Animoto has a great free app that turns the pictures on your iPhone into music videos in just a few minutes.

MobiTV has long been the leader in mobile video, but it’s not yet available on the iPhone. The iPhone generation seems to prefer Qik anyway. Qik lets you immediately upload video you shoot on your iPhone to your favorite online video website. Qik has even coined another great new term for the digital age: “lifestreaming”. Look for it in Webster’s next year.

You want utility? Well, if you can’t find your level to see if that shelf you’re installing is crooked, just download the free iHandy Level app, which turns your iPhone into a level. But seriously, there are loads of great free apps that will help you manage your life (Evernote), send you mobile coupons (Cellfire), record and manage voice notes to yourself (QuickVoice), create great to-do lists (Remember the Milk), and a whole lot more.

The big brands jump in

The apps market is not just about small companies you’ve never heard of. There’s a huge amount of energy being spent at companies like Amazon, eBay, Facebook and others to make sure their success on the Web translates to the mobile marketplace.

Unsurprisingly, the other smartphone brands find themselves playing catch up to Apple once again. In recent months we have seen launches or announcements that app stores from Blackberry, Palm, Samsung, Nokia, and Windows Mobile will be available soon. At least Google had the foresight to launch their Android Market simultaneously with the release of the first Android phone last summer.

You can already find some pretty amazing apps for phones by these companies at Handmark and Handango, but you can also access a top productivity mobile application like e-Mobile Today, which takes control of your phones contacts, tasks, appointment, calls, and email and costs $29.95, or the mobile version of EA Madden ’09 for $9.95

It remains to be seen whether owners of smartphones other than the iPhone have the same appetite for apps as iPhone owners. Experts predict that these other brands will have trouble replicating the success of the Apple App Store. Many seem to believe that iPhone owners, like Mac owners, are simply a different breed.

Barry Myers has been helping consumer technology brands communicate with consumers for over 12 years. Most recently he was a co-founder of DigitalLife, the country’s biggest consumer-facing technology conference and exposition. He’s currently hard at a work on his own niche social network. Barry lives in Manhattan with his wife, two-year old son, and twin cats Al and G.

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