App Stores: add content or the Slayer'll get you

POSTED BY Global Administrator
While Apple’s latest analyst presentation was naturally overshadowed by fevered speculation about Steve Jobs’ health, the latest stats released by the company nevertheless point to the fact that, in the face of intense competition from other smartphone manufacturers, it is actually doing rather well.

Certainly, the company has lost market share in that space, but during the fourth quarter of 2010 Apple still shipped more than 16.2 million iPhones – up a remarkable 86% year-on-year, an a further affirmation of the fact that the consumer smartphone market is in exceptionally rude health.

This in turn trickles down to the app stores, of which – you may have noticed – there are now plenty. Some of these are doing exceptionally well. Clearly, though, some of the latecomers are finding it difficult to persuade the developers to create new content for their storefronts (because those developers are all busy building iOS and Android apps). Which means that there is a paucity of content for those stores, and – unless that paucity is addressed sharpish – is not good news, particularly if you’re trying to use your storefront as a key selling point for your handsets.

In short, what these storefronts have is what might be termed a Hawk the Slayer problem.

Thirty years or so ago, when the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons was gaining traction across the US and the UK, when teenage bookshelves were awash with Moorcock, Le Guin and Donaldson and teenage bedroom walls plastered with Roger Dean posters, a few bright sparks in minor film studios decided to capitalise on this by churning out a slew of features – with budgets starting at modest and heading downwards fast – that gave us elves, dwarves and wizards aplenty. These were usually set in pseudo-Tolkien landscapes.

Some of them were OK – there was Krull, and then of course you had good old Mr Schwarzenegger strutting his stuff in an adaption of the Robert E. Howard tales.

And then there was Hawk the Slayer. This, it is fair to say, was the fantasy turkey –  a combination of ham acting (particularly from an elderly Jack Palance, playing a sword-wielding warlord), dialogue which is contrived and preposterous even by fantasy standards and sets apparently made from a combination of cardboard and cotton wool – all accompanied by a soundtrack that appeared to have been lifted from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds and then played underwater.

Now the reason I am now revisiting good old Hawk the Slayer is that it was just about the only film that was available in my neighbourhood for the Phillips 2000 Video Recorder. Those of you of a certain age may recall that, at the same time that Hawk was strutting his stuff, the fledging world of video standards was witnessing a battle royal, in which the might of VHS vanquished Betamax, winning out in terms of end users and the fact that only a minority of studios deigned to put out titles on the Betamax standard. But the Betamax offering was in turn vast compared to that on offer for the Philips 2000, which was a comparative latecomer to the conflict and found that – despite its various technical superiorities – no-one would give it the time of day.

Except, that is, the makers of Hawk the Slayer. Accordingly, if you wanted to watch a film on Philips 2000, you had to endure “Let me raid the fat lords of the North!” and “Will no one rid me of this mad man? Cut him down!”  again and again. And again.

And this is the problem that storefronts such as Samsung Apps have: they have a relatively low share of the smartphone market, making it difficult to persuade developers to create apps for (or port apps to) their platform. (In Samsung’s case, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that only a small proportion of their own smartphones use Bada.) Thus, in a quantitative catalogue comparison, Samsung does not fare particularly well. Apple’s App Store: 300,000 apps and rising fast; Android market – passed 100,000 apps last October. Getjar – 44,000 to choose from. Nokia – slow start, but more than 25,000 apps on Ovi now. Blackberry App World – has finally passed the 10,000 app mark. And then, as of 12.30pm GMT on January, 2011, Samsung has 2,558 available for its bada operating system.

This is, I will concede, rather more choice than I bunch of adolescents were given in their choice of Philips 2000 video viewing back in the early 1980s, but everything is relative: the proportion of entertainment currently on offer in the Samsung store amounts to less than 1% of that available on Apple’s App Store. No Angry Birds, no Talking Carl. Likewise, the maxim holds true that on app stores, you will feel disinclined to download 99% of the content on the grounds that it’s (a) does appeal (b) poorly made or (c) a combination of (a) and (b) rolled into one.

The problem here is not insurmountable. Nokia recovered from a slow start and is now clocking more than 3 million downloads per day. But Nokia’s success was in part due to the sheer global scale of the Symbian juggernaut – its storefront was rolled out across a vast array of handsets, and – after a few iterations, Ovi gained momentum. The difficulty facing players with smaller market share – be they vendors or operators with own-brand app stores – is of attracting both developers and users to their stores. Fail to do so, and, well, you risk the fate of the Philips 2000 and its rather limited content portfolio.

Reviewers of the Internet Movie Database have awarded Hawk the Slayer 4.9/10. I’ll say no more.