Will Apple's App Store change the desktop app market?

It worked for the iPhone, so maybe it could work for other devices

Beyond the iPhone

Apple may have created the App Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch, but the concept isn't limited to them. In relatively short order, the concept is being copied by virtually every company the develops a smart-phone operating system. Google has launched a store for applications for its open-source Android smart phone system, Microsoft has created a portal for Windows Mobile applications, Palm launched its own app store, and RIM has announced that it will develop a store for BlackBerry users.

So far, most reviews indicate that Apple still has the edge in ease of use and installation. Still, it seems very clear that the idea of the App Store is a hit with mobile device owners and developers. But is it a concept that is necessarily limited to just mobile devices?

A broader App Store could grow in two directions: as a source for other slimmed-down devices, most notably netbooks, and as a place for software distribution for full-featured computers running operating systems such as Mac OS X, Windows Vista or, down the road, Windows 7.

App Store for Netbooks

Netbooks have emerged as a new and popular class of notebook computers. Typically stripped down in terms of processing power and storage, netbooks offer more portability and cost less than traditional laptops. But they rely on an older or stripped-down operating system (typically a Linux variation designed for the device or Windows XP) and a limited set of applications. The low cost and small footprint is making netbooks a popular choice for families, schools and frequent business travelers who want something more than a smart phone -- in particular, something with a real, albeit small, keyboard and screen -- but whose computing needs are minimal. Netbooks work well for editing basic office documents, browsing the Web and for e-mail.

Since netbooks essentially fit in between a smart phone and a full-featured computer, they're a logical step for App Store-style software distribution. In fact, many of the constraints on netbooks and smart phones are the same: small screen size, limited memory and processing capabilities, and restricted storage for the applications themselves. Since many netbooks are designed to be easy to use and carry and often serve as a second computer, making app installation simple is an excellent idea.

There's also the software-update component to consider. Apple's App Store application on the iPhone and iPod Touch can check for updates of installed applications to make the update process as easy as installation. Given concerns that netbooks may have outdated software because of their stripped-down nature, delivering security patches for vulnerable components could be done as simply as iPhone app updates.

One problem with the App Store for netbooks is that various vendors rely on differing operating systems. That means multiple companies would need to develop the stores and build the infrastructure to support them; given the current economic climate, that kind of investment might be hard to justify.

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Ryan Faas

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