Apple's App Store vital to iPhone success, say analysts

'Well-oiled' online mart needed to make the iPhone a platform, not just a phone

Nearly overlooked in the hoopla over its new 3G smart phone this week has been Apple's creation of an iPhone development platform, analysts said Thursday.

And the App Store, the online mart scheduled to go live July 11, is the best example of Apple's new-found platform religion, said Carl Howe of the Yankee Group and Michael McGuire of Gartner.

"I think there is that significant potential for App Store to be for the iPhone what iTunes is for the iPod," said McGuire, a research vice president at Gartner. "One thing Apple knows how to do is sell bits," he added, referring to the success of iTunes, Apple's online music store. "iTunes is seamless and frictionless and I think that can be duplicated with the App Store."

If so, Apple will have a hit on its hands, a totally new market for software created on the iPhone platform that could pump millions in the company's coffers next year.

Howe, the director of the Yankee Group's enterprise software research, also pointed to the App Store as a sign of Apple's emphasis. "This shows that the iPhone is not designed as a garden variety consumer electronics product, but as a platform. In a platform, the add-on pieces can turn out to be as valuable, or even more valuable than, the original device."

CEO Steve Jobs spent about a third of Monday's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote address talking up the iPhone as platform, noted Howe -- another indicator of the importance Apple puts on the concept. "If there's one thing we know about Jobs' keynotes is that he doesn't waste time on things that are unimportant to users," said Howe.

Other metrics, said both Howe and McGuire, include the number of WWDC sessions dedicated to the iPhone, and the fact that the conference was sold out for the first time ever. "Tickets to WWDC run about $1,600, said Howe, so you can say that about a third of the conference's revenues can be attributed to the iPhone." Just under a third of all the sessions at this year's WWDC were aimed at iPhone developers.

Apple introduced the App Store in March, when it unveiled the iPhone SDK (software developer kit). As described then, and outlined in greater detail on Monday by Jobs and other Apple executives, the App Store will act as an iTunes-like outlet for iPhone applications written by third-party developers.

Developers set the price for their wares -- or if they want, tag them as free -- and receive 70 per cent of the revenues; Apple keeps 30 per cent, but provides all the marketing muscle and the bandwidth.

iPhone owners will be able to reach the App Store directly via either a cellular data connection or a Wi-Fi hotspot, pay for (if necessary) and download an application. In addition, users will be able to reach the App Store from iTunes on a Mac or PC; the computer will later push the downloaded applications to docked iPhones.

Some Wall Street analysts have been very bullish about the App Store's potential for adding to Apple's bottom line. Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray, for example, has said the App Store could rake in as much as US$1.2 billion, giving a boost of US$363 million to Apple's revenues in 2009. Less aggressive projections by Munster range from US$416 million to $777 million in total App Store revenues, or US$125 million to $233 million in Apple's pockets.

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Gregg Keizer

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