Apple, Google consider app-sharing tools

Olga Kharif
04 Jun 2009
00:00

These days, downloading software applications for a smartphone is a breeze. But good luck trying to share that fun game or handy work-productivity tool with someone else. Sure, a handful of apps feature \'tell a friend\' buttons that let you alert others to an application you found useful, but if they want to check it out for themselves, they\'ll have to download it or look over your shoulder.

A handful of upgrades from some of the biggest names in mobile software is set to upend the way smartphone users get and share apps. Apple\'s new iPhone 3.0 software includes features that, if activated by Apple, may let users share software with one another, according to a person familiar with the technology. Eventually, iPhone users may even get a commission when they\'ve induced someone else to make a purchase, says Richard Doherty, director at consultant Envisioneering Group. Apple spokeswoman Jennifer Bowcock wouldn\'t discuss features that might be available in the future, saying only, \'We\'ve made no announcements at this time.\'

Separately, a group of software developers led by Google is also considering enabling user-to-user gifting and recommendations through its mobile applications store, Android Market, a person familiar with the plans tells BusinessWeek.com.

Will new features spur sales‾

By enlisting cell-phone users to play a role in distribution, these features could dramatically increase sales of apps, music, and movies for cell phones. As it is, revenue from mobile applications for consumers is expected to exceed $25 billion by 2014, as companies like Microsoft (MSFT) open stores, joining the ranks of existing online marketplaces including Research In Motion\'s (RIMM) BlackBerry App World, Apple\'s App Store, and the Android Market, according to consultant Juniper Research. Analysts estimate that sales of these applications added up to less than $1 billion last year.

User-to-user recommendations could make discovery of new apps and content easier. Most mobile app stores today offer top 10 lists of the most popular apps and let users post reviews. That aids navigating the more than 35,000 apps in the Apple App Store and nearly 5,000 in Google\'s Android Market. \'As every day passes, it gets harder to rise above all that noise. It\'s difficult to be found in the app store,\' says Michael Boland, a program director for consultant The Kelsey Group. Developers have long urged Apple and other services to include tailor-made buying recommendations, based in part on past purchases, that are now commonplace on e-commerce sites like Amazon.com (AMZN).

But user-to-user recommendations could be even more relevant, and it\'s been proven they drive up sales in the case of at least one wireless device, Microsoft\'s Zune digital music player. Zune lets users share content, such as songs, via Wi-Fi. \'The top two places people get recommendations for their music is FM radio and friends,\' says Brian Seitz, group marketing manager with Microsoft Zune. This fall, Microsoft plans to unveil a new recommendations engine that will use friends\' song lists to come up with better suggestions for purchases for each user.

Mobile P2P Sharing

These new viral features will also come in handy amid the proliferation of so-called peer-to-peer applications, which let people transfer content directly from one phone to the next. Peer-to-peer is nothing new in the fixed Internet world, where many people use services like BitTorrent to watch each other\'s movies.

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