Application stores have been around for quite a while, and application download sites have been a staple of the Internet almost since there was an internet.
But application stores really took off in the last three years through Apple's efforts to enable its iPhone with a rich variety of certified applications. Not coincidentally, Apple, also figured out a way to make money as the gatekeeper for applications developed largely by third parties.
As a result of Apple's success, other manufacturers have introduced their own smart phone applications stores. RIM has opened BlackBerry stores on the Web and has a growing library of titles available, although not as robust as Apple's 65,000 titles. Even Google has an application store and is preparing to serve the growing market of Android-enabled phones.
Application stores are poised to evolve into a whole new modality, however, as services in the consumer communication space morph into integrated services. Integrated services are those that work on any delivery medium that the consumer may be using: cable, DSL, wireless, wireline or satellite. And rather than being tied by transaction to one delivery medium, an integrated service can simultaneously exist on several. Imagine email that you can view on a PC, move seamlessly to a TV set and then finish on your wireless device. This age is coming and will require a different kind of application and a different kind of application store to service it.
Clearly application stores represent a new way of consuming communications-enabled applications. Apple's brilliance was to ensure that applications obtained from its store could be downloaded easily and directly to the wireless device, and once downloaded, would work instantly and correctly. Suddenly consumers didn't have to be IT gurus to enable new functionality on their phones.