App stores, the new economy?

You can’t help but appreciate what Apple is doing with it’s App Store which recently sold it’s one billionth app the other day. That’s a lot of apps, and that’s a lot of money going from the consumer’s pocketbook to the software developer and Apple. Apparently the Apple App Store now has around 35,000 apps listed. A lot of them are free and almost all of them are available for under $10. Certainly accessible to the masses.

Being a software developer, I can’t help but envy the guys who are writing these apps. You hear the stories of guys who worked weekends in their basement to make good but simple apps that rake in revenue in the 6 digits in a matter of months. I don’t think there are a lot of similar stories, but it does raise the eyebrows.

I’m also not clear how open Apple is with it’s development environment. From what I’ve been told, you have to buy it from them. It’s cheap, only $99 to get started. But their environment only runs on Macs of course and the feedback I’ve been hearing is that their Xcode IDE isn’t anything to write home about. And there is interest in bringing Eclipse and the CDT into the picture.

So the question that comes to my mind is whether this success can be replicated by someone else. And, in particular, I’m looking at all these ARM SOCs with 3D graphics and multimedia decoding hardware running embedded Linux. It looks like this should be a no brainer.

Or is it? These platforms are easy to build but technology doesn’t make an industry. My son has an iPod Touch and it’s a pretty slick device that I’m sure cost Apple more than the $200 we paid for it, or at least they’re breaking even on it. No, to build a successful platform, you need an ecosystem and that ranges from the SDK the developer uses, to easy access to their wares via an app store or such, to slick looking hardware consumers crave.

It’s no easy task, and I see attempts by the open source source community with platforms such as Open Pandora doomed to failure. It’s ugly, clunky, expensive, and lacking that ecosystem to make it successful. I appreciate their attempt. And I think it could work, if you got the big handheld vendors involved to build the hardware, and then used open platforms and tools, such as Linux and Eclipse, to build the apps, and then some one to build and maintain the app store to spread the wealth. But then maybe I’m dreaming or wouldn’t someone have done this by now?

Update: I totally forgot about Android and it’s app store. But then I’m so totally biased against Java right now, I find it hard to imagine you’ll ever see the sleek apps that Apple has. I’m just weird that way. But I would be happy to be proven wrong.