Apple’s App Stores Face A Big Problem: Fragmentation

By James Mowery

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There are so many questions over Apple’s announcements during the “Back to the Mac” event with regards to the Mac OS X App Store. How will it work? What will developers think? Who will use it? And so on. But there is a much bigger issue at hand: the very company that has complained about Android fragmentation is now fragmenting its own devices, developers, and consumers. Ironic? You bet.

Currently Apple has a fairly simple setup: there is an App Store for the iPad and there is an App Store for the iPhone/iPod Touch, which also happens to be compatible with the iPad. The iPhone applications will work on the iPad, but the iPad applications will not work on the iPhone.

Okay, so maybe it isn’t as simple as it could be, but we can live with it, right?

Confusion Sets In

However, with the announcement of an App Store for OS X Snow Leopard and Lion, which is expected in a few months, things become infinitely more complex. There will the aforementioned App stores, but there will also be an App Store for Mac OS X. It will supposedly come in the form as a standalone application for Mac OS X, segregated from the iTunes marketplace, it won’t work with the iPad nor iPhone/iPod Touch, and it has an incredible amount of restrictions associated with it as well.

Oh boy.

And this is where things start getting vastly confusing. Ever since the creation of iTunes, the primary way of purchasing software, music, movies, e-books, and more has been through iTunes. But this move is quite drastic — it is an effort to separate applications (i.e. the App Store) from the iTunes tore. This act alone brings many questions.

  • Will iTunes still host applications for iTunes/iPad?
  • Will the OS X App Store remove all references of applications from iTunes?
  • Will the App Store spur on the rebuilding of iTunes?
  • Will OS X applications on the App Store receive preference over traditional applications?
  • Will OS X Apps be restricted in any way (other than the outlined restrictions)?
  • Will consumers need to purchase a iPhone, iPad, and Mac OS X Apps for the same software?
  • Will developers be able to offer an all-in-one deal so consumers can get access to applications on all of Apple’s platforms?

The questions are impossible to answer at this point, but the obvious outcome is going to be far greater complexity and understanding from consumers and developers. Either way, this is fragmentation, whether Apple will admit it or not.

Big Business

But we are only touching the surface, however. What about more complicated software from larger companies that provides industrial, creative, and professional tools for thousands of dollars? Will they operate under the same rules and pricing structures as traditional applications? Or will they receive preferential treatment from Apple? What about software that requires subscription/licensing? Or will Apple consider creating a separate App Store for them, too?

What if the OS X App Store was eventually to be divided into two separate, yet similar, platforms: one for consumers and one for businesses/professionals. The App Store for consumers would exist just as one would expect. The App Store for businesses and professionals would be a separate entity with different pricing structures and, quite possibly, rules for those developers.

This is an interesting proposition that may or may not have any inherent meaning other than to point out that Apple has the possibility to further fragment one of their most precious products: the App Store. Apple already have two versions, which, quite honestly, makes little sense to me, but so be it. But they are about to add yet another; it is on the verge of being ridiculous.

What’s next? An Apple TV App Store? Maybe an iPod Nano App Store? Perhaps we will need a Macbook Air App Store to compensate for screen size? Yeah, it’s crazy, but that is the way it feels we might be headed if Apple keeps on going with this recent trend of creating new App Stores. Of course, Apple is smarter than I’m acknowledging at this point in time, but Apple has earned this scrutiny, if not simply because of its attacks on the competition for being so heavily fragmented.

What’s Next?

If Apple doesn’t want to risk turning into an Android marketplace, they might want to figure out a way to reduce the amount of App Stores it has. There is no doubt that fragmentation is happening, and you better believe that any other competitor can now call out Apple on that fragmentation argument that they typically use against Android. It’s almost beginning to feel like the only difference between iOS and Android is that Apple has total control over them while Google does not.

But Apple could take a big step in the right direction by eventually combining the iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch App Stores. I’m sure it won’t be too long before the iPad has a larger and smaller screen variation, so it makes sense for the App Store’s applications to properly scale, regardless of screen size — leave it up to the developers to adjust their interface depending on the screen size/resolution, as I know they are smart enough to figure it out.

I guess this is simply another case of the pot calling the kettle black.

About James Mowery
James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist, entrepreneur, and Apple enthusiast who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable, Techi, and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.

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