Download Here

One of the myths about mobile is that people don’t like to download applications. So much so that many VCs have been turning away business plans for some time if they start with “We’re going to build a downloadable app…”

In fairness, these plans often then add “…and then all we need to do is get Nokia to install it on all their phones and we’ll all be rich.” This is Underpant Gnome* thinking and understandably gets dismissed pretty quickly.

However, things are not quite so black and white as this – they rarely are. Plenty of companies have been managing to persuade consumers to download applications – if the user clearly understood why they should be interested. So, games have enjoyed success and mobile IM has also been a big beneficiary for companies like Reporo, BluePulse and Mxit. Ringtones have worked pretty well too, although they’re not normally described as an app per se.

However, companies with less clear USPs have suffered, especially ones where you really have to experience it to understand that it’s great.

The success of Grand Master Jobs’s Apple Store has highlighted that there’s gold in those thar apps after all and suddenly apps businesses are credible and stand a very good chance of getting funding. This is only the beginning though, with apps store variants being launched by Google’s Android, as well as yesterday’s backdoor leakage ofMicrosoft’s Skymarket via a job spec.

Actually, considering Redmond’s experience in the PC environment and the fact they’ve been doing Windows Mobile for 8 years now, it’s quite surprising that they hadn’t done this before. But I guess if the Apple way was obvious, Symbian, Brew and JME would all have been long riding this bandwagon and supporting their developers with a better way to market.

That’s not all though. Even carriers are trying to get in on the act, with Sprint announcing in July that they were going down the same route. Expect to see similar announcements from others in due course.

And then there’s the dark horse in the race with GetJar, which is the incredibly popular independent download site for the mobile geek community and which quietly got funded by Accel Partners a few months back (Accel are also investors in AdMob, by the way). MocoNews had a very comprehensive interview with these guys last week, but they’ve had 300 million downloads since 2004 and are averaging out at 13 million a month. OK, unlike some other players in the market, GetJar’s downloads are free, but these are still big numbers, albeit tiny in comparison to the mobile web. Expect some of those new carrier portals to be powered by GetJar, according to MocoNews.

So now we can see the bandwagon, is it too late to jump on it, to paraphrase Lord Hanson?

Again, this isn’t a binary outcome and certainly for the developer community, they’ve never had it so good – up to a point. Getting your product to market looks easier for sure, but then as more developers come into the market, getting visibility is still going to be really hard. Fortunately, mobile web advertising can give great visibility, so it’s not all doom and gloom on this front, especially for AdMob 🙂

And while it’s true that the Apple apps store does sell applications (they sold $30 million in the first month) this is still a market that’s dominated by the F-word – FREE. Which probably means relying on an advertising model in some shape or form. And if you’re going down that route, I’d still suggest it’s better to look at a mobile web-based solution, as a generalisation. The mobile web has far greater numbers, is easier to develop for and iterate and consumers can figure out your proposition without the hassle of downloading something first.

Of course, I’d always advise players in this space to do both. Launch with a mobile web version, learn and iterate – and then launch via an application, or perhaps a series of applications, which will appeal to your power users, who will relish the additional functionality you can give them in an app.

I’m not suggesting that you can’t make money selling apps – the Apple stats show that it’s possible – but this is not the easy market that the current Gold Rush mentality might indicate. And let’s not forget, most people don’t ever make money in a Gold Rush apart from the companies that sell the miners the equipment in the first place.

* If you didn’t get the Underpant reference, or just want to enjoy the classic South Park scene, here you go

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