Apps: Exploring the Next Content Frontier

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As the old song went, there was an awful lot of coffee in Brazil, and there are suddenly a ton of mobile phone applications in the world. In fact, according to a recent report by Chetan Sharma Consulting, which was commissioned by GetJar, a company that distributes free mobile applications, the number of mobile app downloads will increase from 7 billion in 2009 to an astonishing 50 billion in 2012. That translates into a $17.5 billion market by 2012. Even if these numbers are wildly exaggerated, and there is no reason to believe they are, this is a huge market and it's no wonder content providers everywhere are clamoring for a piece of this action.

Suddenly, App Stores are everywhere. fThe GetJar report states that the App Store market exploded from eight to 38 in 2009, a number that likely leaves content producers wondering which ones they should be supporting. Apple is certainly the most successful with over 2 billion served in its first 13 months of operation and over 85,000 apps available from 125,000 developers worldwide.

These numbers are enough to get anyone's attention, but Apple is just one player in an expanding market, and it's safe to say you don't want to put all your eggs in one company basket, no matter how influential it may seem to be at the moment. There are so many questions, and the market is developing so quickly, it's hard to know where to point your company's resources, and therein lies the problem. Everybody wants in, but few really have a grip on how to deal with this massive new space. One thing is certain however, every content publisher needs to build an understanding quickly because it's clear the mobile market is the wave of the future, and a mobile strategy has to be a part of every company's distribution plans moving forward.

Not All Mobile Content is an App

John Blossom, CEO at Shore Communications, Inc and author of the book Content Nation, says it's easy to think that any content that runs on a mobile phone from ring tones to TV shows to browser-based applications as part of the "app" market, but he prefers a narrower definition. "I would suggest that we think of the 'Apps market' as the universe of content and functionality made available via online marketplaces for use on specific platforms or for cross-platform use via open-standards technologies." In fact, Blossom has even defined four characteristics of 'the app' including:

  • They deliver a combination of content and functionality designed specifically for one or more mobile platforms.

  • They are delivered as products made available in a standardized store-like online environment, sometimes but not always for a fee that is managed by a centralized payment system.

  • While apps may provide a simple type of content or functionality such as a ringtone or an ebook, they are distinguished from other types of content or functionality by their packaging for delivery and use via a standardized interface that sets them apart from typical Web-based delivery channels.

  • Many apps take advantage of the APIs provided by a platform to use the features of a mobile device to add value to the app experience and/or to deliver content that can be shared with others. For example, FourSquare, a mobile application that enables people to announce their "check-ins" at locations, makes use of the geolocation services of various mobile platforms.

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