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Originally published April 25, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 25, 2009 at 12:13 AM

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Sizing up the apps stores

Google and RIM have launched their version of Apple's iPhone store and hope to replicate its success. Microsoft and Nokia plan to follow suit.

Since Apple's iPhone store launched about nine months ago, it has become a runaway success, racking up 1 billion downloads and plenty of copycats. Eager to replicate the company's successes are Google, which released the Android Market, and Research In Motion (RIM), which launched the BlackBerry App World. Microsoft and Nokia are also quickly on their way. But now that there are at least three, we figured a proper review was in order.

We found a number of differences among the stores, from pricing to billing to presentation. Apple, for example, has the most apps, at 25,000, while BlackBerry has only about 700 (and some of those might be duplicates), and Google falls somewhere in between.

There's also no consensus on price. For example, Glu Mobile's Build-A-Lot game costs $9.99 on BlackBerry, but $4.99 on Android and $1.99 on Apple. What's also interesting is that while an app can get rave reviews on one phone, it can tank on another.

Each of the stores has a real-life retail counterpart: Apple is like a big-box retailer, with one-stop shopping and competitive prices; BlackBerry is like a high-end boutique, with a brand-name selection but higher prices; and Android's kitschiness is like a thrift store, where you never know what you are going to find, but it will likely be a bargain.

Apple's App Store

Number of apps: 25,000 apps

Pros: By far the greatest selection of apps, ranging from noise makers that make fart noises to toilet finders and apps that can view hospital-grade X-rays. Apple also stands alone by offering a robust PC version of the store (iTunes). Google has no PC component, and BlackBerry only highlights the featured apps. Plus, billing can be a breeze if you already have an iTunes account.

Cons: Apps can be difficult to find if you're not looking for something new or popular options. It's nice that Apple breaks each category into three parts. For instance, in music, I can see that Smule's Ocarina is the top paid app; Pandora is the top free app; and something called "Black" is the most recently released.

But finding everything else can be hard. There's no way, for example, to see what your friends are downloading or what's relevant to me based on geography. (Neither of the other app stores has these features either, but it's a bigger problem for Apple because of the size of its app store.)


Android Market

Number of apps: Low thousands


Pros: Google does a decent job with "discoverability" by listing the most popular and most recent apps for each category, much like Apple.

Cons: Poor selection — even BlackBerry, which has fewer apps overall, has a higher-quality selection, including more brand-name apps. (You get a lot of this kind of thing: David Medina wrote as his description of the Power Manager App. "Sorry, I was laid off recently, this is now a three-day trial [version], after that $0.99 one time fee.")

Also, there isn't enough turnover in the most popular apps. I'm guessing that, unlike Apple, which bases popularity on a short time frame, Google is keeping a running tally, so applications like ShopSavvy and The Weather Channel have been there since the very beginning.

BlackBerry App World

Number of apps: About 700 (but some of those may be duplicates)

Pros: Store is only two weeks old, but clearly from the start, it worked hard to have a decent selection of brand-name apps, including Ticketmaster and Bloomberg, neither of which Google has. It does a nice job of promoting apps, like those on the home screen. For instance, right now Guitar Hero is $11.99, Bloomberg is free and MySpace is free.

Cons: Consumers have to download the store to their phone to use it, unlike with Apple and Google, both of which embed the store in the device. Also, users must sign up for a PayPal account — from a PC, not the phone.

RIM is trying to focus more on the consumer market, but its enterprise background is evident in the app store. There are 39 entertainment apps and 170 games, but there are 190 focused on business customers, including applications for tracking expenses, remote terminal servers and file managers. Prices are also noticeably higher. The AP news app is free on Apple, for example, but costs $2.99 on BlackBerry, which is the minimum starting price.

Tricia Duryee, a former technology reporter at The Seattle Times, now writes for, an online news site focusing on mobile content that's part of the contentNext family of tech Web sites.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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