So it looks like the iphone appstore is going to break through 100k apps pretty soon with some of the big tech blogs already jumping the gun a bit and reporting it. This is another major milestone in terms of the scale of the iphone appstore and the growth of the mobile internet in general. At the current rate of growth there will be over 250k apps by some point in 2010.
However, the current itunes appstore and native iphone appstore client is arguably not sufficient for providing a truly effective discovery channel for hundreds of thousands of applications. As a result, the sheer growth in the scale of the iphone ecosystem has created an opportunity for other services to help people search and navigate iphone applications.
For example, one of the interesting memes of the recent Mobile 2.0 Conference in Barcelona was the idea from Dan Applequist that "Apps are like Songs". To some extent the appstore is becoming like itunes (the delivery platform) and other services are emerging to be the last.fm or hype machines of iphone apps. Similarly, Vision Mobile point out that as the iphone apps market matures, retailing will become the key part of the value chain with specialists emerging to focus on selling specific types of applications.
"as with all fast moving consumer goods (from detergent to mobile phones), retailing and merchandising is the most important segment of the product lifecycle. As applications become ubiquitous, we see specialized app stores with segment-specific retailing of apps, inventory leasing for app promotions (CPC or per week rental as already seen in the Ovi Store and RIM App Center), social recommendations (your friends bought this app, so you should buy it too) and developer back-channels (allowing the developer to reach out to their customers via App Store facilities)."
So here's a quick run down of some of the different types of services that are springing up around iphone app discovery.
Social search and discovery has made a big impact on web search with the likes of delicious, stumbleupon and digg becoming important filters for the thousands of websites and pages out there. We can expect similar types of services to emerge to help people find applicaitons. At the moment, Appsfire is one g socially-focused iphone app discovery tool out there - it allows you to share a list of your iphone apps with friends and on twitter. Yappler also allows you to share list of iphone applications. Another similar service focused on social app discovery is Appboy, which recently launched as a kind of "threadless for iphone apps".
App aggregatorsiphone app aggregators take advantage of the itunes affiliate API to republish all of the iphone appstore listings and provide a different type of interface to them. This means that users can hopefully surface different types of apps and have a choice of a different way of navigating them or browsing them to the standards itunes UI. There's an increasing number of these sites with the bigger ones being apptism, appshopper and 148apps.
App review sites
Overlapping with the app aggregators to some extent are the specialist iphone app review sites which focus on providing editorial / blogging focused around providing reviews, opinion, news and screenshots to help people find the latest, and the best, iphone applications. Again, there is an increasing and growing list of these sites but the major ones include appvee, appstorehq and appcraver.
Whilst print media isn't the force it once was, there's still room for magazines to emerge around new trends, and iphone apps are no exception.
Believe it or not there is actually a magazine on sale at the moment in the UK which is completely focused on providing a Guide to iphone applications. It's apparently in the second edition, and sells for £9.99. (no web link available, photo coming soon)
Cross platform appstores
Whilst a lot of aggregators are focusing on providing a view into the iphone appstore only, there are some cross-platform open appstores beginning to emerge. The main one is getjar, which treats the iphone as just another handset and platform amongst the many others it supports on its site. Other cross platform stores include handango and mobihand.
At mjelly we are also adding what we consider the best iphone applications to the site alongside those from other platforms. For apps like Nimbuzz, or Fring which are available on multiple platforms, we provide a single listing and rating for iphone as well as all the other major platforms.
Similar to app reviews a number of sites are beginning to develop guides to apps across different verticals, For example, there's the App Guide from Macworld which covers apps by type or Apps for Everything from apple itself, which lists things like Apps for Cooks, apps for the Great Outdoors etc
To some extent the apple TV and print ads themselves are acting as a search and discovery tool for the appstore. The "there's an app for that" series highlights key applications, whilst the print ads typically show 10 or so applications and what they do.
Finally, in the ultimate circularity, iphone apps which help you to search the iphone app store are also popping up. For example, App Gems offers daily app suggestions.
Applications search and discovery is definitely a rapidly evolving area and something we are very interested in over at mjelly so watch this space.