Is the appstore another form of walled garden?

william volk playscreen.jpg

Note: This is a guest post from William Volk – co-founder of Playscreen – A good friend and a leading authority on iPhone, games, appstores and other related areas

Now that I have products in Apple and Google’s App stores (10 and 4 respectively) I can share some observations.

Yes, Apple’s App Store is a walled garden. It may be Tito’s Yugoslavia to Brezhnev’s USSR, but a walled garden it is.

It is a superbly executed market, but the problems cited above do exist. Let me supply some insider insights.

1. iPhone users for the most part only look at the App store (on the handset and in iTunes) to make their buying decision. Press and reviews hardly effect sales numbers (i.e. Pocket Gamer etc..).

2. The titles that get into “What’s Hot” and “What’s New” are placed there by Apple editorial decision. Much discussion evolves around “what does Apple care about.”

3. Still, titles do succeed virally, and once they are in the top 10, large profits are to be had.

4. Apple has a host of internal rules about titles that you will only find out about when you cross the line. And yes, they do play favorites. I may not have earned brownie points with this, but recently I was told “Don’t do ‘X’” and a day later followed up with an email documenting a major publisher’s flouting of said rule. Often a rule will be in place, you’ll make decisions based on it, and the rule will change (Pull My Finger gets banned, the rule changes, and iFart makes over $1m).

5. The system has growing pains. Often a title will be delayed and what you will get told is something like “your app requires additional time for review.” It can be very painful to have a timely app (based on current events) delayed this way. You simply don’t know the WHY? when this happens.

6. There really is no other market but the App Market for iPhones. The number of jailbroken phones is insignificant.

All that being said, there has never been a more dynamic and for some, profitable, market for apps. The quality of the titles out now is staggering. Compared to dealing with the operators direct and it is heaven.

Now to Google Application Marketplace. Technically, this is NOT a walled garden. There are alternative markets and users can download apps from a URL. Here’s some observations on the Google App Market.

1. The store has a 24 hour try before you pay policy. The first question I get asked by fellow iPhone publishers about this is “what’s your return rate.” The answer is, it varies by title … we see everything from 30% to more than 50%. I look at it this way. It eliminates the need to create a LITE (free) version of your app. You just have to figure the return policy into your projections.

2. There’s no side-loading version like iTunes. The apps seem to be limited in size.

3. It’s not as nice of a shopping experience as the iTunes one.

4. You’re simply not going to have the gee-wiz native app performance of a iPhone on a Java based SDK.

That being said, there is a huge potential with Android, depending on how many handset companies jump on board and the growth of the user base. Google has a lot of work to do to extend the App Marketplace to new territories and improve the experience.