Less is more: the 200’000 apps myth

A ridiculous race is going on in the world of Smartphones, with each competitor boasting about the number of available apps for his platform. With Apple talking of 200’000 apps and Android claiming 50’000 apps (similar to what Palm offered in earlier years, and probably similar to Symbian), a new platform such as Maemo 5 sometimes faces a difficult stand, with casual users coming from other platforms complaining about too few apps (only hundreds…)

After years of smartphone experience as user and developer, having my first app on Maemo reaching 100’000 downloads, programming a first iPhone enterprise app and spending a few evenings of App Store analysis, I believe it’s high time to debunk the app numbers craze: IMHO,  a high number of apps reflects the shortcomings of a platform as much as its mass market success. This article mainly looks at the iPhone AppStore, however the Android situation is quite similar.

One in six apps in the iPhone AppStore is an eBook. “Jane Eyre” alone is available through over a hundred apps. How ridiculous is this? Taking an eBook and packing it into an app? 36’000 books as individual apps?
On Maemo, you have one or two good e-book readers, then you simply download whatever free e-book you want. Yes, no paid eBooks (no DRM) yet, but 30’000 eBooks alone from Project Gutenberg, downloadable through the default browser.

One in six apps is a Game. Some of them are absolutely fantastic, innovative and superior to the handheld game platforms such as the PSP or the DS. But many others are imitations, variant 283 of Tetris or Bejeweled. Or crude mini-games. And quite often, games come in 3 variants  – a free, a lite and a full version.
On Maemo, the commercial games are mostly missing due to the ongoing Ovi store tragedy/mess. Angry Birds and Bounce save the day, and every possible emulator allows us to relive glorious games of the past, even using various external controllers. In addition, thanks to the in-built Flash player (take that, Steve :-) and the physical keyboard, you can play many Flash games in the browser or even download them for later offline play. Maemo would probably need just a dozen good 3D games to be up to par in the Gaming section.

The entertainment section (10% of all apps)  is another show of the tragedy of the masses. Sorted by popularity, the winner is “Boobs & Thongs Lite”. What a glorious achievement.  In fact, three of the top 20 apps are about boobs, another 3 about wallpapers. Plus light sabres, farts, jokes, beer and TV.
On Maemo, thanks to the fantastic browser and screen resolution plus the huge amount of codecs supported, you can simply get the real deal just like on the desktop. Whatever the kind of reference you’re looking for. Save any possible image by right-clicking and saving in the browser, review later on throught the Photo app. And simply use any possible image as wallpaper directly from there, too. And for all other reference lookup, just try the search widget “TouchSearch” and ad your own databases if Wikipedia, Google, IMDB etc. are not enough. And for emergencies, a light saber is available and a fart app is work in progress. Sigh.

Education has 7% of all apps, with a few fantastic items, but also lots of superficial content, similar to simple lookup lists or a number of pages packed in an app. PS: Another Boobie app in the Top 20!
On Maemo, we have a number of apps, most notably Stellarium. This alone rocks incredibly and shows the true potential of this platform.  Flashcards, Graph calculators, periodic  tables are there, too.

Going into the other 50% of apps and categories in the iPhone app store, the view is the same: a few individual gems, but mostly repackaging of existing content. Each RSS feed an app, each internet radio station an app, each reference list an app, each city map an app. Each document about whatever an app. And who needs 856 weather apps?
Desperately looking for an advantage in having this many apps, I remembered the online/offline dilemma. At least having an app installed should give me more offline freedom, or not? Unfortunately not – because many apps are indeed just frontends to existing content. And if not, every single content you would want is an individual app that you need to find and download separately. In fact, instead of googling and surfing to content, in a way Apple prefers you to search in the App Store and install the one app for just this content.
What are the reasons for this mess?

  • Conceptually, to hide the shortcomings of the input methods, the shortcomings of the browser and the shortcomings of the display resolution.
  • Commercially, the trendiness of the iPhone and it’s mass market appeal combined with a fierce competition and freeloading on existing content. Plus Apple’s strategy of consumer lock-in.

Where will it go? I’m persuaded that in a few years, 90% of the apps will be forgotten and long dead – it will begin the moment that the iPhone has a higher resolution display and and better browser and happen when Flash or HTML5 is available.

Luckily, with Maemo 5, we’re nearly there already. Less is more. Be free.

62 thoughts on “Less is more: the 200’000 apps myth

  1. Pffft. Never mind how many apps there are for the iTelephone, real N900 users make their own programs.

    I ported gcc to my N900, it is schweet I tell you, schweet.

  2. suprajun i couldnt care less about games. i want apps that make this phone a powertool not a game console.

    burt, as for the development, i am not a developer nor am i a programmer. i am however a “real user” of the n900 and it just frustrates me to see such great development out there for the other more mainstreamed devices and not for this device which we all know can run circles around the devices out there at this time.

  3. discodave not only the game even the softwear but you know somthing i’m wondering how the nokia n8 going to handle all this apps with a 680 ghz procusers ? compre it to iphone procusers and n900 they are diffirent type of procusers the all new smart phone they came with 1g procusers i don’t know why still stuck with 600?

  4. you are man but this the way how nokia deal sorry discodave but i had been use nokia nokia phones since ages no any changes the only change came with the n900 and right now stoped without any reason. We hope nokia deal with us coustomers in the right way like the apple style:)

  5. I agree with most of this, and found your rationalising a good read. however, if I cannot buy the real good apps like Angry Birds on my phone, then I look a little dumb compared to iphone/ipod touch friends.

  6. I agree with u richard i know n900 it’s a computer phone but still need lot of develompent to reach iphone apps and for the guys said iphone just for games this not true my brother has iphone lot of apps not only games i have n900 compare to iphone it”s nothing let say the n900 it has camera better than iphone cause the flash and by the way the frame rate in iphone 30 per second and n900 it’s 25 per second? for 5mp camera thats not right nokia we hope nokia do somthing about it n900

  7. one big problem with n900 is the fact that ovi has extremely rigid rules of publishing and some other (default) repositories are less than happy to publish a commercial app. So, if you have a commercial app like we have (app is free, web usage is premium), what do you? Any comments?

  8. Richard you are so right… this is what really got me thinking this past weekend when i really had an opportunity to play with the droid. indeed I believe that we all look pretty stupid in front of our iphone and droid friends as we boast about the seemingly endless capabilities that we have in our hands with this device, however until nokia gets their shit together we will all continue to look more stupid. sadly, this little blog will do no good either since nokia isnt reading it.

    andraz – doesnt apple have the same strict rule with regard to publishing apps for the iphone? I was under the impression that they did. if that is indeed the case, then why is it that developers can pump out hundreds of apps per day for that device? I mean lets look at pypianobar for example…. great app for the n900, but why is it even called pypianobar? what the fuck is the deal with that? why not just call it the pandora app?

    i mean this kills me because it does the exact thing that pandora does but i had to search high and low for a pandora app, and this is what i found. i am getting increasingly more frustrated too as I read all of your comments becuase it’s pretty clear to me that we all seem to agree on this issue. now the question is, how do we get this frustration directed to the people at nokia?

  9. Right andraz OVI store it’s nothing comare to apple apps store and u know they said they want to compete with apple apps store that’s what i hared funny haa! i don’t know how they are going to compete with apps apple store and they don’t have even nice apps, and right now they care only about the new nokia n8 and.they want to make it like iphone even the made a vote in nokia website about this matter belive that the 50% of the new apps with 3D for the new nokia n8 copy it from iphone?

  10. discodave go to ovi store and there is a comment direct to ovi and nokia i sent a comment when i had my n97 they reply me with lot of shit about the new softwear of n97 after that i sold it out and i bought the n900 and till now like 5 month no any app from ovi not even the new softwear rp1.2

  11. As i told you discodave belive me nokia care only about the symbin os and if u notice that n97 got a new softwear 2.1 and it’s sucks crapy phone just asked yourself why n900 not getting any develop till today the last update end of 2009 and till today no any update

  12. Hello guys…just a few comments from my side.

    I agree with most of your comments. I just want to point out that N900 is really limited in what should do best: use internet apps and business apps.
    Only the web browser id good, all the other standard apps are quite scrap: Modest email client is horrible and too limited, Calendar is really basic, you don’t have a real good local search function; Mail For Exchange has still many bugs and lack of features (example no category, problems with recurring events, only 1 calendar support with no colors, no invete etc etc).
    THe bluetooh doesn’t work well with headphones, car devices etc.
    I don’t care about MMS or videocall (never used in my other phones) but I would like to fully use the power of N900 with decent business apps !

    It is very strange that the best part of N900 is the multimedia/video/camera part which is not bad for this type of device.
    It is even more strange that no one has developed a better PIM / Email /Calendar / Contacts apps while there are strange apps and porting of emulators of games etc.
    PLEASE DEVELOPERS, GIVE US SOME NICE Buiness and useful apps, even commercial ones . FOr a good apps we are very happy to pay some $/€ !

    Thanks,
    SkyEagle

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