Here are a few sentences that stuck in my head about how the iPhone’s App Store helps convince some people that they want a smartphone.
“[Y]ou might think 1,000 apps should be plenty to fit everyone’s needs, but then you misunderstand how the iPhone’s App Store contributes to Apple’s success. In short, 100,000 apps is a really, really long tail, and in that tail everyone can find one or two goofy, niche apps that they really like. And when they find those apps—my dad loves the bubble wrap and the Bible translations, my wife loves the koi pond and the kiddie apps that entertain my daughter, and I like the IRC clients—they show it off to friends and family. And when one of my dad’s non-iPhone friends sees the bubble wrap and the six different Bible translations, that person doesn’t say to himself, "my God, it has bubble wrap and Bibles. I must buy this phone." Rather, he says, "if it has bubble wrap and Bibles, I bet it has something really cool for me, too. I must buy this phone."
“The power of the long tail for app stores is that everyone can find and share a handful of quirky little apps that really excite them for whatever reason. And when they share those apps, they’re essentially shilling for the platform, not the specific apps. Every time two people pull out their iPhones in a crowd and start trading recommendations for incredible niche apps that fit their specific interests, everyone who doesn’t have an iPhone feels like they’re missing out.”
I saw it happen in the early days of personal computing and the Internet – almost everyone eventually discovered some web site or program that drew them in and caused them to call people over to share something cool. People tell me all the time that smartphones leave them cold – they can’t imagine what a device in their pocket would do to justify the cost of the phone and the data plan. My answer is: I can’t predict what app will change your mind, but I can easily imagine that something will.
The Android store is developing the same rich variety of apps as the iPhone App Store, helping drive the explosive growth of Android phones. It didn’t happen for Palm (which is the point of the article), and it’s impossible to predict whether the same market for apps will develop around Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Phone 7 release in the fall.