Analyst: Get ready for all-in-one app stores

Amid launch of various PC app stores to complement mobile counterparts, Springboard Research analyst believes a one-stop app shop for consumers, regardless of device type, will emerge in near future.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

With more devices equipped to access app stores for content, the market will see the emergence of an all-in-one app store able to recognize the type of device used and push apps relevant to that platform, observes an analyst who points to major players such as Apple and Google which are heading in that direction.

Bryan Wang, Asia-Pacific associate vice president of connectivity at Springboard Research, noted that consumers today own multiple devices and would want to be able to share their applications across these devices to have a seamless mobile Internet experience.

"We do believe that there will be a market for one-stop app shops able to recognize the device accessing it and push relevant content to end-users," Wang said in an e-mail interview.

To this end, he pointed to operators such as Apple and Google which he said were already heading in that direction. With Apple launching its Mac App Store on Jan. 6 and Google unveiling its Chrome Web Store a month earlier on Dec. 7, both companies are extending the mobile app environment into the desktop arena, he added.

"[Opening up these desktop app stores] is one of the steps for Apple and Google to move to a one-stop shop direction," the Springboard analyst said. "When PC app stores get larger market traction in the next year or two, we think it would be natural [for such vendors] to have their current mobile and desktop app stores combined."

Wang noted that Apple and Google currently are the only two operators that have "the capability to attract large volumes of customers in the next couple of years", a component that is necessary for a one-stop app shop to flourish.

The potential of a one-stop app shop also drew a positive response from Malcolm Lu, a product packaging designer, and a user of Apple's MacBook Pro, iPad slate device and Google's Chrome Web Store.

He told ZDNet Asia that he is "for the idea" of having an all-in-one app store as it would help him save time in looking over apps that are compatible with his respective devices.

Multi platforms not so soon
Lu, however, said it is "doubtful" a "universal" app store that is able to cut across different platforms and devices will be available any time soon.

He noted that mobile platform operators today are focused only on introducing and maintaining their own respective app stores, such as Apple with the iTunes App Store and Research In Motion with its BlackBerry App World. And this trend does not seem to be ending in the near future, he added.

Furthermore, there are differences in programming apps for the various mobile platforms and multiple devices that apps run on, making it "harder to develop a universal app store", he noted.

Wang agreed that universal app stores will not see light of day in the near future. He noted that in order to create a successful platform- and device-agnostic one-stop app store, the operator must already have an established brand name and customer buy-in for its existing services.

The operator should also have a multi-vendor, multi-technology approach in its business strategy in order to want to create the one-stop app store to begin with, and there are not many such companies in the market today, he added.

Wang identified Facebook and Samsung as two players that could potentially fulfill one or both factors, but whether the companies would eventually set up a universal app store remains to be seen.

Industry trends appear to support these observations. Besides smartphones, tablets and desktops, carmakers are also jumping onto the app store bandwagon, further complicating the app store landscape.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that automobile manufacturers such as General Motors and Toyota have announced plans to transform dashboards into Internet-connected vehicles. General Motors, for instance, expanded its OnStar system, which was first developed to provide directions and emergency services, to include apps that access the car system and push information such as vehicle diagnostics to car owners.

According to Gartner analyst, Thilo Koslowski, the auto industry's focus on apps comes as carmakers look for new ways to differentiate their products from the competition. He said in the Wall Street Journal report: "Internet-connected autos will be among the fastest-growing segments in four years." Koslowski also predicted that more than half of all new premium vehicles in the United States will support apps by 2013 and mass-market cars will reach that level in 2016.

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