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The secret of the iPhone app store

In an Ars Technica article on the Palm Pre, Jon Stokes explains the benefit the app store provides for the iPhone platform as well as I’ve ever seen:

Even so, you might think 1,000 apps should be plenty to fit everyone’s needs, but then you misunderstand how the iPhone’s App Store contributes to Apple’s success. In short, 100,000 apps is a really, really long tail, and in that tail everyone can find one or two goofy, niche apps that they really like. And when they find those apps—my dad loves the bubble wrap and the Bible translations, my wife loves the koi pond and the kiddie apps that entertain my daughter, and I like the IRC clients—they show it off to friends and family. And when one of my dad’s non-iPhone friends sees the bubble wrap and the six different Bible translations, that person doesn’t say to himself, “my God, it has bubble wrap and Bibles. I must buy this phone.” Rather, he says, “if it has bubble wrap and Bibles, I bet it has something really cool for me, too. I must buy this phone.”

The power of the long tail for app stores is that everyone can find and share a handful of quirky little apps that really excite them for whatever reason. And when they share those apps, they’re essentially shilling for the platform, not the specific apps. Every time two people pull out their iPhones in a crowd and start trading recommendations for incredibly niche apps that fit their specific interests, everyone who doesn’t have an iPhone feels like they’re missing out.

I also learned that the Palm Pre has a mirror on the back. I had no idea.

Photo by Flickr user Ryan Orr.

1 Comment

  1. Re: mirror on the back: One of the stupidest things about the iPhone design (and though I’m mostly a happy user and you’ll pry my iPhone from my cold dead fingers, there are a lot of stupid things about the design of the iPhone) is that the Apple logo on the back isn’t big enough to tell if the camera is pointing at you when doing self-portraits. I took the mirror on the Pre as evidence that Palm’s designers were actually thinking about use, rather than making it look pretty at the expense of use.

    The iPhone is full of “look pretty at the expense of use”.

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