Sunday, December 14, 2008

iPhone's App Store Gold Rush

From Newsweek:
Apple won't say how much money the App Store is taking in, nor will it say how many of the 300 million downloads were free apps and how many were apps that cost money (most apps are free; the others cost anywhere from a buck to $10). Apple gets a 30 percent cut of any revenue generated by apps. But for Apple right now the money isn't the point. The big thing is the race to become the dominant mobile-computing platform, the way IBM-standard PCs running Microsoft operating software—first DOS and then Windows—came to dominate personal computing in the 1980s and early 1990s. The mobile-computing space looks a bit like the early days of personal computers, when different operating systems were competing to be king. A half-dozen smartphone platforms compete in the market, including Symbian (used by Nokia), Windows Mobile, the BlackBerry and Google's Android. Yet another is on the way from Palm, maker of the Palm Pilot and the Palm Treo. Next year Palm will introduce an entirely new operating-system platform for mobile computing. Whichever platform draws the most developers will likely rule the market. Right now "it's a 100-yard dash and Apple is already 75 yards down the track while the other guys are still trying to get out of the blocks," says Ken Dulaney, analyst at researcher Gartner in San Jose.

Half the fun of owning an iPhone is trying out all the cool new apps you can put on it, and developers are cranking things out at a feverish pace. "It's kind of a gold rush," says Brian Greenstone, who runs a tiny outfit (it's just him and a few freelancers) called Pangea Software in Austin, Texas, that has created several hit games for the iPhone, including Cro-Mag Rally and Enigmo. Greenstone, 41, has been writing games for Apple's computers for 21 years. But he says he's never seen anything like the iPhone apps phenomenon, which this year will deliver $5 million in revenue for him. "It's crazy. It's like lottery money. In the last four and a half months we've made as much money off the retail sales of iPhone apps as we've made with retail sales of all of the apps that we've made in the past 21 years—combined." Business is so good that Greenstone won't even bother writing for the Mac anymore. Besides, Greenstone says, iPhone apps are easy to create: some get cranked out in just two weeks by a single developer. "Some kid in his bedroom can literally make a million bucks just by writing a little app," Greenstone says.