Rather than succumb to Apple’s demands on sharing the spoils of in-app purchases, content and service providers are now turning to web apps to free themselves of the shackles of the iOS App Store. Playboy had done that in the past to get away from the content restriction of the App Store as the magazine’s flesh-tainted pages would be deemed unsuitable for minors, and just this week we’re seeing Walmart’s Vudu division bypassing a native iOS app to stream movie rentals to the iPad. Instead, the nation’s leading retailer is opting to go the way of the web app, leveraging iOS’s Safari browser to deliver the HTML5 streams. Additionally, Amazon.com is going the same route with its Kindle app, taking books and their pages to the cloud, and rendering them on a beautiful web-enabled browser near you, sans app.
As big name content providers are turning away from the famed App Store, which dominates consumer mind share and good old market share as far as having the most apps of any mobile platform, this leaves a big opportunity for rival OS-makers to capitalize on Apple’s mistakes as it learns how to handle the developer community that made it huge in the first place. However, is there even opportunity or room for rivals to leverage this golden opportunity?
Web Apps May Be the Future, But Microsoft has the Most to Gain Today
In somewhat of an ironic twist, in the past I’ve called on Microsoft, RIM, HP, Nokia, and others to embrace web apps to break developers free of the iOS shackles in favor of broader platform compatibility. Essentially, with HTML 5, all of iOS’s rivals can pool together their market share to create a dominating presence that can rival the scale of iOS to make it profitable for developers to write for those platforms by utilizing a single web app. However, given recent turns of events, it seems that Apple is already pushing developers towards web apps–albeit unintentionally–and my position has since changed. Rather than pool together, Microsoft, which stands to gain the most, should go and poach developers that are now displeased with Apple.
Currently, with Apple being embroiled in bitter legal disputes with Android and its hardware partners, potentially banning the sales of hot Android devices, that platform has more important things to try to sort out than the app economy. Research in Motion’s migration between BlackBerry 7’s position as a stepping stone to a BlackBerry smartphone platform based on the QNX engine may find developers uneasy in this state of purgatory. Additionally, the platform’s schizophrenic juggle of BlackBerry App World apps and Android apps on the PlayBook tablet may be more confusing than needs to be. And given webOS’s rather lackluster debut on the TouchPad, perhaps the best platform to leverage Apple’s weakness here is Windows Phone 7, especially considering Nokia’s huge weight behind the platform today.
Microsoft Has a Solid Past with Recruiting Content-Based Apps
Microsoft may be in the best position to come out ahead in the war of ecosystem as Apple tries to sort out its developer relationships. The company had been wise in the past by paying developers to create compelling apps to launch alongside Windows Phone 7 when that platform debuted a year ago. And to that end, we saw great content from Amazon’s Kindle to Netflix’s movie streaming to Zune for music. It’s only recently that Android is catching up with the breadth of professional, valuable content available for Windows Phone, and that’s saying something!
Microsoft Should Target Developers Displeased with Apple
By appeasing developers in areas where Apple had created the most hurt, Microsoft may finally be able to garner more apps for its Marketplace for Windows Phone 7. Though in order to do this, the company will have to prove to the developer community that with Nokia it will be able to achieve huge gains in market share to be worth developer time and effort in creating these apps. However, with Apple upsetting magazine publishers over subscription policies and app developers over revenue sharing for in-app purchases and linked stores, we’re beginning to see big cracks out of Apple’s minimalist glass facade. Now would be the time for Microsoft and rivals to pounce, but can they? iOS still commands huge market share and vast mind share, and it will definitely be hard to break developers away from a trusted platform.