The iTunes App Store is the absolute king of the smartphone applications world. Not only has the billionth app just been downloaded, but a recent survey shows that smartphone users who don't own an iPhone simply don't download apps.
The billionth App download was widely predicted to happen some time this week, and it finally did last night (conveniently helping Apple overcome a PR nightmare). In just nine months, the App Store expanded from a few hundred apps to over 25,000 apps available.
To add validation to the app store's dominance, we look to recent research from Compete showing that the typical smartphone user who owns a non-Apple device hardly ever downloads an app. And when they do download and install software, they usually add just a few items—between one and five, and leave it at that. 78% of Blackberry owners, for example, have installed between zero and five apps, 24% have installed none—that's compared to 73% of Palm owners and 73% of Motorola owners.
Meanwhile merely 18% of iPhone users fall into that category, while 22% have installed between six and ten apps, and 17% have installed over thirty (the category I find myself in).
These differences are staggering, but there are a few explanations that make sense of the disparity. For one, the smartphone ecosystem is all-important: iTunes provides a seamless and friendly way to access, manage and install apps on the iPhone at the click of a single button. But installing an app on a typical Windows-based smartphone involves fiddling around with individual install files, copying data to the phone, following prompts and so on—exactly the reason I only installed two apps on the Samsung smartphone I owned prior to the iPhone. The average user just doesn't want to fiddle with all that nonsense, and has also historically lacked a "superstore" like iTunes where they can find apps in the first place.
Secondly, in Compete's list Blackberrys may be far behind the iPhone because they are often company machines. That means users are reluctant (or may be barred from) installing third-party applications on the machine for safety/security reasons.
Finally the Compete data misses, for some reason, Android phones and apps. The Android app marketplace seems to be doing well, and since installing an Android app is a relatively simple affair, its popular. The marketplace is just not as big as iPhone's.
This situation is dynamic: manufacturers are trying to cash in on the app store boom with stores of their own, and new phones like the Palm Pre that take advantage of the ecosystem. It remains to be seen whether any of these will evolve into a rival for Apple's monolithic iTunes. But with an apparently exponential growth in app writing and app downloading for the iPhone, they've got a long way to go.