July 2009: Mobile Applications: Moving Beyond Apple

 

The mobile space is awash in applications, or “apps,” as they are commonly called. On the heels of Apple’s success with the App Store, unveiled in July 2008, other device manufacturers and operating system providers, including BlackBerry and the Android platform championed by Google, opened their own virtual storefronts. Still others are readying for launch later this year, all hoping to take a bite out of Apple.
 
Consumers feel emboldened to do more with their mobile devices. Accordingly, eMarketer projects that mobile Internet access, through either traditional browsers or installed applications, will see significant gains over the next five years, reaching 134.3 million mobile Internet users in 2013.
 
 
Excitement over the iPhone and the highly visible marketing campaign behind the App Store have helped to transform what were once considered functional utilities into full-blown experiences. In the process, Apple and others in its wake have provided a welcome jolt to the mobile advertising market.
 
From the user perspective, app stores offer different options for browsing outside on-device clients. Apple’s model allows for PC-based browsing of the entire App Store catalog using the iTunes desktop client. Android Market allows limited online browsing, and RIM confirmed in an interview with eMarketer that it expects to add this functionality to BlackBerry App World later this year.
 
For third-party storefronts such as Handango and Handmark that lack the advantage of an on-device client, the Web is, in fact, a very important customer acquisition channel. Many carrier app catalogs also can be perused online.
 
 
A key factor fueling the explosion in mobile applications is the steady advance of smartphones, which is outpacing the growth of standard feature phones by a healthy margin. Even in the face of a global recession, the International Data Corporation (IDC) expects smartphone shipments to grow by 3.4% this year, and expand at triple the rate of feature phones in 2010.
 

The impact of this sales growth will dramatically reshape the device market. Informa predicts smartphones will make up 38% of all handset sales worldwide by 2013, more than double their share in 2009.
 

For many marketers, mobile applications constitute an increasingly necessary avenue for reaching and engaging with their customers, whether by building a proprietary application or sponsoring a third-party effort. In both cases, the essential challenge remains: to understand consumer behavior and craft experiences that resonate with a target audience and integrate with other channels.

 

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