A funny thing happened to me this morning: while perusing the latest list of Gizmodo smartphone apps (a much more efficient way of trolling the AppStore), I found myself thinking that the iPhone apps at the top hadn't changed all that much over the last few months. While that is true, what struck me more was that I had accidentally navigated to the Android page and was halfway down the list before I realized it.
For all the of crap about hundreds of thousands of apps what my mistake shows is that we've reached complete app parity for all of the stuff that really matters. Want note taking? Photo effects? Deferred reading? Even these fringy use cases are covered by both iOS and Android. And what is more, for the mass market third-party apps (Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, Kindle) there is parity from the icons on back. In other words, for normal users, I think apps have now become an undifferentiated feature when it comes to platform selection.
Jean-Louis Gassée, ex-Apple exec and perhaps the only French blogger who doesn't write like he is trying to start the next French Revolution, had an interesting piece over the weekend about how overly simplistic the argument that Apple is repeating the Mac's errors with the iPhone. It's a great read and along the way he hits the question of application breadth, arguing that while they were missing on the Mac relative to Windows, the iPhone has had the advantage here. From my perusal on Gizmodo this morning though, it is quite clear that this advantage is now gone. It is interesting to see how fleeting it was relative to what happened in the PC.
The main reason for this is that the apps are much more trivial to write and port than the spreadsheet was back at the beginning of the PC ramp (for well funded companies, scrappy startups are still disadvantaged).
One has to wonder then whether the platform vendors will realize this and start competing more aggressively on other dimensions (other than cell network which is clearly out of their control)— or more importantly, stop competing on this app one. Good things could come of that; for instance, the SDK engineers could stop trying to differentiate and move towards better incorporation of some of the most common patterns (how many apps on both iOS and Android now use web views for more and more interface screens?). But even if that doesn't happen (one can always dream), platform vendors might loosen their grip on app distribution once they realize it's just another commodity feature. Is that also dreaming?