App Store success stories require a pinch of salt

Let's give Tapulous props where they're due: $1 million in monthly sales from the iPhone's App Store is a staggering feat, especially when the marketplace is filled with more than 100,000 other choices. But claims that business is booming and that mobile app development could breed the next great tech company are overblown.

There are a few points worth considering before celebrating the iPhone App store or any other mobile marketplace as a limitless source of fame and fortune:

"Gold Rush" Can Have A Negative Connotation

Very brief history lesson: Though the California Gold Rush was important for westward expansion, few people got rich. That's because when one person strikes gold, and everyone follows, there are simply too many people and not enough resources for everyone to profit.

For some modern history, check out Forbes' fascinating tale of the "casual games gold rush" and subsequent bust. When simple, downloadable PC games became the rage in 2007, game developers big and small jumped on the trend. Of course, only big companies were able to market their products in such a crowded market, while small-time developers languished and moved on to Facebook, and now mobile apps. History repeats itself.

For Every Success Story, There's a Sob Story, Too

For an example of app optimism turned sour, check out Marroni Electronic Entertainment's hysterically self-deprecating tale of its "iLikeCereal!!" app. The two-man development team hoped to follow the simple aesthetics of The Blimp Pilots' popular Koi Pond app. Instead of fish floating in a pond, ILikeCereal!! featured cereal swirling around a bowl, responding to the iPhone's accelerometer. Sadly, the app sold just 26 copies in its first three days on the market. "I was going to to pay the rent and get something to eat," co-developer Ivan Galic said. "I'm actually pretty hungry, right now."

The Vast Majority of Top-Selling iPhone Apps Are Games and Time-Wasters

Apple's list of top-selling iPhone Apps, as of April, included Crash Bandicoot, Koi Pond, Bejeweled 2 and, of course, iFart Mobile. Existing products made mobile, such as Facebook and Google Earth, dominate the free apps list, along with free and "Lite" games including Tapulous' Tap Tap Revenge. With all due respect to InfoMedia Inc., makers of iFart, I sincerely hope that company does not become the tech industry's next colossus.

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Jared Newman

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