Monday, June 27, 2011

Appstore Fragmentation Comes to Apple's iPhone


"Fragmentation" is a word people use to mean this: There are a lot of different Android phones out there. It's confusing for buyers, because they don't know what kind of phone to get. And it's frustrating for app developers, because it's hard to write apps that work on all of them. Especially now that thanks to the Amazon Appstore, there are even multiple app markets for Android.

"So what?" you ask. "How does that affect the iPhone? We don't have to deal with stuff like apps that don't work on our phones. Like when Angry Birds Rio came out; we just got it from the App Store like always, while Android owners had to use Amazon. Are you saying we have to deal with that now, too?"

Actually ... yes.

Android exclusives

John Gruber of the Daring Fireball blog asked "Where Are the Android Killer Apps?", and noted that basically the only apps that were exclusive to Android were the ones that wouldn't work on the iPhone. The biggest reason, of course, was money: With app developers making more money from Apple's App Store, seemingly the only people who wrote apps for Android were large corporations and hobbyists.

But that is starting to change. Spacetime Studios, the indie developers of the popular Pocket Legends MMORPG for both Android and iPhone, have noticed that they make more money from Android phone users. Perhaps partly because of that, the exclusive beta of their upcoming RPG, Star Legends, will only be available on Android ... Verizon's V CAST store, to be precise.

The plot thickens

"Well, that's just a fluke," you say. "It's because Apple won't let game companies do limited betas, where you need an exclusive key in order to play it. As soon as the game's fully tested, it'll be in the App Store too."

This is probably true, because game companies these days can't afford to ignore the iPhone. But what if their iPhone games aren't in the iTunes App Store?

Apple has always maintained a separate "app store" for web apps, which are basically websites that run on your iPhone. But they aren't like normal websites; they can have their own homescreen icons, and some of them can even run offline and save data to your iPhone.

It's true that they don't provide the best experience right now. But Facebook's "Project Spartan" appears to be its own take on a web app store for your iPhone, and Facebook has a lot of experience with the whole "app store" thing itself. If anyone can make web apps work on the iPhone, it would be Facebook, and it's questionable whether or not Apple would be able to do anything to stop them.

That's fragmentation: Multiple app stores, multiple ways to get apps, multiple confusing choices. But is it a bad thing?

Strength in diversity

Here's my take on it. When you've got "analysis paralysis," and aren't sure what to do, having too many choices is bad. And when all that "choice" amounts to is what color your generic-brand iPad clone will be, it's pointless.

But when it leads to something spectacular being created -- something like the Nook Color, that might never have existed without Google's open-source Android programming code -- that makes all the rest of the junk worth it. And if "app store fragmentation" will mean that you get to use Facebook apps on your iPhone that you wouldn't be able to otherwise, then hey, why not?

Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.

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