More predictions about the future of mobile devices are coming out of the MobileBeat Conference in San Francisco. Ilja Laurs, the head of GetJar — a mobile device app store that boasts 14 million downloads monthly — recently said that mobile phone applications “will be as big if not bigger than the Internet,” according to the BBC. That statement is in direct contrast to last week’s declaration by Google’s vice president of engineering, Vic Gundotra, who said it’s not the apps, but the browser that will be the future application platform for the mobile device.
Laurs believes the popularity of applications will peak by 2020 with around 10 million apps available worldwide. After 2020, the popularity of mobile apps will drop off considerably. But Gundotra says the multitude of available cell phone platforms will become too costly for companies to develop a separate app for each operating system. The alternative, Gundotra says, is building applications for the still nascent mobile browser.
Sounds to me like a fight is brewing over how you’ll use your mobile device in the future. In the one corner you have Apple, GetJar, and almost every other company championing the downloadble app; and the in the other, the mighty Google declaring the Web as the future of just about everything.
The Downloadable App
Apple turned the mobile industry on its head with the iPhone, and the company took its success even further with the release of iPhone OS 2.0 and the App Store in iTunes. Today, the iPhone is becoming a platform for just everything including games, social networking, turn-by-turn directions, e-reading, and news updates. Recently, Apple announced that iPhone customers have downloaded more than 1.5 billion applications from a library of more than 65,000 titles in the app store. Based on Apple’s success, practically every major handset manufacturer has jumped on the app store bandwagon, with online retail outlets open for Blackberry, Nokia, Palm, Windows Mobile and even Goolge’s Android handsets.
But the downloadable model has inherent problems. Apple has been accused many times of having bizarre and incomprehensible policies about its approval process for third-party developers. Budding programmers designing for the iPhone and other devices are also finding it difficult to make a profit from their applications. Many times, a particular application will gain traction with the public, but then die off as other more interesting applications take their place. Speaking with the BBC, Laurs said this is the inherent problem with all application stores and that approximately 90 percent of all developers are doomed to failure. However, Laurs also said those app devlopers that remain standing will have a highly profitable business.
The Mobile Web App
While Apple has the download market cornered, Google is working hard to capitalize on the growing importance of the Internet. The company recently announced its cloud operating system, Chrome OS, as a follow up to Google Chrome, its questionable attempt to revolutionize the traditional Web browser. The Internet monolith that started with a simple search box is now the go-to service for millions around the world with online offerings that include e-mail, office document software, an RSS catcher, social networking, video streaming, news aggregation, blogging, and on and on. With such an overwhelming presence online, it’s clear why Google would want the Web to be the future of the mobile device.
However, the problem with accessing apps through the browser is that they are rendered useless once you lose your Internet connection. The future may point to a day when every square inch of the United States is covered by some sort of wireless connection, but as InfoWorld’s Bill Snyder recently pointed out, it’s hard enough to find a good signal in San Francisco or New York, never mind trying to access your Gmail while you’re traveling across the plains of Wyoming or the Nevada desert. Mobile Internet service just isn’t ready for Google’s revolution.
In theory, browser-based apps are a nice idea, and Google’s dream may be inevitable, but for now I’m betting most of us don’t want our phones to lock us out of our music, games, or other content every time we drop our Internet connection.
So, what about you? Are you happy with your downloaded content, or are you willing to give up your mobile applications for Google’s cloud?