Why are App Stores So Popular?

Why are App Stores So Popular?

Since Apple first unveiled the App Store with the iPhone, I was skeptical of the concept.  As it took off, its success was hard to dispute, but something still didn’t sit right with me.  Last week when  Apple announced that in a couple of weeks there will be a “Mac App Store”, I thought to myself, “Crap, am I missing something?”  I decided it was time to formalize my answers to two key questions.  First, why are app stores so popular right now?  Second, what weaknesses do I think will cause them to fade away?  So, for the next two days I’m going to explore these two questions and bring yinz along for the ride.

If we want to know why app stores have become so popular, we don’t need to look any further then the inadequacy of the browser through which you are reading these words.  Browsers have not really evolved over the last 15 years.  To this day, what they are best at is showing you a static webpage.  Sure, there are little bells and widgets and Flash and SilverLight and Javascript, but at the end of the day even the beefiest browsers and sites are clearly built around the idea of rendering HTML pages found at a specific address.

The problem is, in this age of Software as a Service (SaaS), the cloud is becoming less and less HTML Page centric, relying more and more on media and interactivity.  Since browsers couldn’t keep up, the App stores were born.  With an App, developers were able to leave the browser and present their information, interactive game, knowledge tool, etc… without the limitations of the browser.  They can control your device in ways the browser never dreamed of (controling volume, figuring out what other applications are doing, etc…).   This was the kind of freedom that developers needed to make SaaS take off, especially in the mobile space (where the browser is even more limited).

Just to avoid the criticisms of this argument that may be coming; I am aware that the App Store is not a replacement for the browser.  I am also aware that there are apps on all the app stores that are not cloud based at all.  My point is simply, that the primary reason there was a need to build apps in the first place was that the content didn’t fit in modern browsers.  Once the app store mechanism was in place, it got used for a great many different things.

So there you have it, my theory on why App Stores took off.  Do you agree or disagree?  Tomorrow, I’ll tell you why I don’t see this App Store model as sustainable.