After 2 Billion Downloads, Can The iPhone Be Stopped?

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It seems like just the other day when Apple announced its 1 billionth App Store download, and today they have crossed 2 billion. Are there any reasons to buy a smartphone that is not from Apple?

I cannot think of too many. And it will be hard for other manufacturers to catch-up. Not with the hardware, perhaps, but with the whole ecosystem that supports the iPhone and iPod.

Because iPhone competitors are typically hardware-only companies, it has proven difficult for them to match the software and services that drive iPhone sales. Even Google, developer of the Android smartphone operating system, has been slow to bring any sort of battle to Apple's door.

If Google cannot or will not compete all-out with iTunes, the Music Store, and App Store, what hope does Palm have? That of finding niches where Apple does not play, I suppose. This would be broadly defined as "business," but Research In Motion, with its BlackBerry line, still controls that market.

It's hard to imagine Google's Android won’t be some sort of a success, thanks to the backing of Motorola and a host of other manufacturers, but the Palm Pre and Pixi are starting too look awfully lonely--and the Pixi hasn't even shipped.

Back to the news, the 1 billionth download took place on April 24 and the company announced on July 14 that 1.5 billion downloads took place during the App Store's first year of operation. At that time, Apple claimed 65,000 applications were available.

As someone who has downloaded more than 100 applications, I have certainly made my contribution to the total. However, with 50 million iPhones and iPod touch devices sold in 77 countries, other folks must be contributing as well.

Apple claims 85,000 applications are available for its smartphone. It did not announce the ratio of free-to-paid apps that have been downloaded.

The combination of Apps Store and the iTunes Music Store are a formidable challenge for smartphone competitions. Both the Google Android and Palm webOS platforms have applications stores of their own, but neither is in any danger of catching up with Apple is either total number of applications or downloads anytime soon.

That's "soon" as in 3-5 years, by my estimate, unless Apple fouls up in a very big way or one or both of the other smartphone platforms catches fire with consumers. This is Apple's market to lose.

Of course, the other platforms--Android and webOS--don't have to match Apple app-for-app to be considered successful, but they will have to do something to differentiate themselves in a positive "I want that and not an iPhone" sort of way.

Right now, the biggest reasons not to buy an iPhone are cost and having to choose AT&T as your carrier (in the U.S.). People who do not want to spend so much on their monthly service plan--my two iPhones average more than $80 each per month--may find another carrier to their liking.

In addition, people who do not care about downloading applications will be happy with a non-iPhone option. As will those who do not want to use iTunes or purchase music from the world's largest music retailer, the iTunes Store.

See where this heads? I cannot think of good reasons why someone who had a choice and really wants a smartphone would not buy an iPhone. It is up to Google, Motorola, Palm, et al., to give them one.

David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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