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Google Angers Mobile App Developers

Google's developer evangelist, Vic Gundotra, may have alienated his key constituency, mobile application developers, by claiming that mobile phone users will end up getting their apps from Web browsers rather than from app stores operated by the likes of Apple, Nokia, Palm, and Research in Motion.

Many, many applications can be delivered through the browser and what that does for our costs is stunning-- We believe the Web has won and over the next several years, the browser, for economic reasons almost, will become the platform that matters.
Gundotra's prediction bursts the balloon of developers who expect app stores to turn them into instant millionaires (and there are enough success stories to drive even more developers into the market). Another way of looking at this, of course, is that browser-based mobile app delivery will liberate developers to create apps for any device, rather than hanging their hopes on the fortunes of a single app store. Ilja Laurs, CEO of browser-based app store GetJar, told the BBC that app developers have been set up for disappointment.
The reality is that this space is only so big and only able to support so many people... The ratio of those developers who will fail is about 90 percent; they will simply not make a return on their investment or make a good enough living at this.
The best bet, then, would seem for app developers to go browser rather than app store, right?

Not so fast. Mobile technology consultant Ajit Jaokar says that for browser-based app development to make sense economic to developers, Google (or someone) will have to create an ecosystem. Handset makers like Apple, RIM and, to a lesser extent, Nokia, have already created environments that provide developers with back-end support, customer billing and a way for customers to discover their apps. (William Volk, CEO of iPhone and Android app vendor PlayScreen, breaks down the different app stores in this post.) "Can Google create a viable ecosystem around browser apps which the customers will like?" Jaokar asks.

William Bereault, director of research and development for Never Alone Anymore, confessed during a meeting in New York last week that the technical and business process support provided by Apple is a critical component of his company's business plan. And Zigurd Mednieks, chief architect at mobile device software vendor D2 Technologies, notes that developers would be hard-pressed to replace the marketing support provided by app store.

In the long run, Gundotra may be right, and Web-based apps will eventually become the norm, and Getjar says more than 500 million apps have been downloaded from its store. For the time being, however, most mobile apps are sold through proprietary app stores. And while any individual developer's chances of striking it rich are slender, hope is a powerful motivator indeed.

[Image source: Michael Marlatt via Flickr]

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