COMMENTARY | As David from 37signals pointed out, "the established wisdom now is that you cannot win without hundreds of thousands of apps" if you're trying to buy or make a new smartphone. That's why companies like Motorola and HTC are playing along with Google to make Android smartphones; they could take the open-source Android code and run with it, but if they're not in Google's good graces, so their customers don't get to buy apps from the Android Market.
In a survey by Business Insider, though, only 8.1 percent of respondents said "App selection" was the most important factor to them when choosing a new smartphone. So does it really matter how many hundreds of thousands of apps are in the Android Market, or that Android has more free apps than iOS?
What does matter, anyway? To Google, to HTC, and to you as a smartphone buyer?
The biggest reason the iPhone does so well is because Apple nailed the experience on it. And by "experience," I don't mean it has glossy buttons. I mean the way it feels, the way it works, and the way you can Get Stuff Done on an iPhone without feeling like you're fighting it. My HTC Aria, for instance, often lags a second behind my swiping through home screens, but the iPhone tends to be perfectly responsive.
As David put it, "Ten apps is [sic] all I need," and he described the core Apple apps like Safari and Mail as "the ones that made me buy the phone and stick with it." In my case, I use Google's apps extensively, and I like Android's minimalist feel. But you might discover you like Palm's WebOS, or even Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, better than either Android or the iPhone. Have you tried them?
It's true that neither WebOS nor Windows Phone 7 has the same number of apps that Android phones have. But the thing is, there's a certain element of serendipity involved in finding a new smartphone. You don't really know what a phone will be like until you've had it for awhile, and the features you thought you needed might end up forgotten in days.
A person I was talking to the other day thought it was amazing that the HTC Evo had HDMI output, but ended up barely using it. I have a shelf full of games that I've hardly played, not to mention the apps I've downloaded but never tried out. I went through the phase David describes, where you try tons of apps right after you get your smartphone, but I've basically settled on the ones I like.
I think the purpose apps serve is not really to make a new phone appealing, since you don't know what you'll need until you use it. I think the bigger purpose they serve is to make sure that you buy a new phone from the same company so it can run the same apps.
That's good for you, when it means you can stick with what you like. But it never hurts to try something new every now and then.
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.