Verizon just announced the launch its own app store for smartphones, inspired by the iTunes Store, Windows Marketplace, Ovi Store, and those for Android and Palm. But Verizon’s apps will be locked exclusively to its own store.
It’s a tacit move to attract developers, in the hope that Verizon smartphones will get good apps that then help drive sales of handsets and tariffs on Verizon over rival networks–essentially Verizon’s desperately hoping to ape the ridiculous success of the iPhone’s App store, which has over 50,000 apps from big and small name developers and has long-surpassed one billion app downloads from global iPhone users. it’s also a natural progression from its old Brew developer platform. The company’s VP of Partner Management, Ryan Hughes, explained in an interview: “We’ve always had deals with companies like ESPN and EA, but now there are all these mom-and-pop developers…where there were once 20 or 40 developers that you needed to care about, now you have 100,000. Quite candidly, we didn’t have the framework to handle those applications in Brew.” Aside from the slight insult to the numerous small software houses that have made millions in profit from iPhone apps, Hughes makes a sensible point–the app store as an entity has moved from a small, unsuccessful local affair to a significant business in its own right. Adapting your company strategy to encompass this is a good thing.
But at this point, Verizon injects a whole lot of fail into its plans. Because Verizon smartphones will not have access to Windows Mobile, Palm, Android, or BlackBerry app stores out of the box–instead the default access will be to Verizon’s store. Consumers can, of course, add this app store software themselves later, but Verizon’s presumably banking on the idea that many won’t, and will use its own app store primarily. Developers can also build for their chosen platform at will, but if their apps access Verizon’s subscriber data for location or to bill a customer, then there’s a central Verizon approval process hoop to jump through, and the relevant API hooks will have to be added to the app itself.
In other words, while Verizon expects to attract developers to access its users, those developers will have to sell their wares specifically through the Verizon store, and adapt the software accordingly. That doesn’t sound overly tempting–and though Verizon has over 70 million subscribers, only a small percentage are going to own the relevant smartphones.
This is Verizon clinging on to an old business model, one where networks dictated the user experience and the handset software coming from their phone manufacturers. By launching its own app store, the company’s desperately clawing at the idea of making money form selling apps, and keeping control of the situation. But times have changed–smartphones are now so powerful that it’s the phone itself that rules the roost. An iPhone app works unadjusted on an iPhone connected to AT&T, the U.K.’s O2 network, Portugal’s Optimus, or France’s Vodafone–it doesn’t matter, and that’s amazingly attractive for developers. And, speaking of the iPhone, is this move an indication Verizon’s never going to sell iPhones? More fail.