Looking Beyond the App Store

With the recent passing of the one-year anniversary of the Apple iTunes App Store, we have seen 1 billion mobile applications downloaded for the iPhone. Of the more than 50,000 applications available, many have been developed for brands or integrated mobile advertising.

While mobile applications have been popular since the early days of the Palm Pilot, applications as a branding or marketing device are creeping into mainstream status as a new, unique way to reach consumers with an “always-on” personal experience.

Leave it to Apple to consumer-ify emerging technology and bring it to the masses with well-articulated demonstration and consumer appeal (“This is what you want, why you want it, and how to get it…only from Apple”). While Apple enjoys the attention and marketing that App Store brings to its iPhone, it’s important for marketers to leverage and pay attention to the fact that Apple is informing consumers and whetting their appetite for mobile applications. However, not everyone has an iPhone, which leaves open a wide marketplace that isn’t being addressed: other devices.

For years we’ve talked about the future of mobile marketing and it’s potential with location-based services, dynamic offers and immediate information. All of the services, well handled by the iPhone, are also available for devices outside of the Apple ecosystem.

The BlackBerry is a near-ubiquitous device found in cubicles, airports, clubs and on weekend soccer game sidelines around the world. With its seven-plus years of availability across every major U.S. carrier it’s changed the communication culture of our daily and professional lives. It’s hardware and service is one the most reliable platforms available, and it’s physical keyboard makes it one of the most coveted devices among heavy texters and people who care less about the Internet and more about what is going on with their friends. There are millions of BlackBerry devices out there. Just think about that untapped market for applications.

While development for the BlackBerry (and its multiple device and carrier ecosystem) can be tedious, there are great hardware-specific features that can be tapped. From a physical keyboard, to GPS, to video capability, brands can create rich applications for social interaction. However, BlackBerry’s recently launched distribution system needs some improvement to gain mainstream awareness of an audience clamoring for apps. Unless you’re buying a new device out of the box, users need to manually install the BlackBerry App World application from BlackBerry and then set up and utilize a PayPal account. While PayPal accounts are quite common, this is still a process that has many friction points. Brands and agencies will need to accommodate and guide users through this process in order to realize effective distribution for the BlackBerry. Of course, brands can bypass the application store process and distribute their applications independently, but by doing this they forgo the intent of the application store which includes user reviews and certification of the application by BlackBerry.

Google’s Android mobile phone operating system is another platform with a healthy dose of available applications. While the Android platform lacks the market share of the iPhone, it represents approximately 9 percent of worldwide mobile browser usage and its application store offers over 4,500 apps for download. While definitely on the sidelines of the iPhone vs. BlackBerry wars, reinforcements are on the way as operating system refinements, more hardware and carrier choices are coming in the second half of this year.

Earlier this month, the brand that helped pioneer the category of mobile applications, Palm, launched the Palm Pre, which features its proprietary WebOS development framework that’s friendly and familiar to everyday Web developers and interface engineers (those people that you likely already have on retainer). In addition, the Pre also possesses a feature that the iPhone doesn’t have — the ability to run multiple applications at once. As a brand, this is desirable as it allows an application that could be optimized for location-based services (couponing, retail messaging, time-based offers, games, etc.) run in the background while users utilize the device for other services and applications.