App Stores Overload: It's Too Much of a Good Thing

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It seems like every company that's even remotely associated with the smartphone industry is starting an app store. From big names like Apple's iOS store and Google's Android Marketplace (which just arrived on your Web browser), to such third-party vendors as GetJar and SlideMe, the app marketplace is clogging to the brink of a coronary - and it's only getting fatter.

Apps are undoubtedly a lucrative business; analysts at Gartner say that mobile app store revenue will reach $15 billion this year. And while fair competition is great, there are simply becoming too many choices.

Along with Apple and Google, there are a slew of others that have entered the app business, including Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Palm, and Symbian.

Cellular carriers and manufacturers are also doing their own thing, like Samsung, Nokia, Verizon's V Cast store, and Amazon's marketplace for Android apps.

Then, the third-party app stores, such as GetJar, Handango, MobiHand, AndSpot, SlideMe, and AppBrain. PocketGear, a major mobile app store, has just relaunched as Appia, and will start powering other app stores rather than focusing on direct-to-consumer sales.

Why stop at mobile apps? Apple's launch of the Mac App Store brought desktop computer apps into the spotlight, which has in turn inspired Cydia - the group known for providing apps for jailbroken iOS devices - to consider its own desktop offerings. The makers of Linux also don't want to be left in the cold.

If you believed Wired's piece about the death of the Internet, you understand that apps are killing the "traditional Internet" and morphing it into bite-sized one-stop-shops with singular intents and purposes. It's the idea that we don't want to waste time searching anymore, that we want to press one button to do one awesome thing and that's it. So apps are making our lives easier, right?

Consider this: there are more than 70,000 registered Twitter apps out there. How is that making anything easier? Which app do you choose? And now that there are dozens of companies with their own app stores, which app store do you choose to find which app you want?

Therein lies the irony.

Remember, too, that while apps are more than likely not a trend, the industry still functions on a sales cycle - and no sales cycle is more brutal than technology's. Remember when everyone tried to make an e-reader before determining that e-readers were dying? Or the rise and fall of netbooks? Or how companies are now breaking bank on creating tablet computers that will more than likely be crushed?

The idea that too much choice is a good thing has been eviscerated by economists and psychologists alike. Psychologist Barry Schwartz contends that having a plethora of choices is actually driving us to an exhausted state of insanity and that the overload of options is paralyzing people or pushing them into decisions that are against their own best interest. Some of these upstart app stores need to get that memo.

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