January 4, 2011 at 7:11 pm

2011: App Stores Rising

In the two and a half years since Apple’s iTunes App Store made the mobile phone malleable in the hands of its users, they will have around 20 app stores, give or take, to choose from this year for their smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, desktops/laptops, and cars — and that list (below) could even underestimate the number of app stores we’ll see in 2011.

As much as Apple’s idea was to expand the functionality of the cellphone and allow users to install programs on it, Jobs and company’s other stroke of genius was also to contract the computer, tailoring apps to specific hardware.

Apple doesn’t present anything at the Consumer Electronics Show, but its presence will be felt just the same this week (expect further coverage here). Just about every manufacturer of consumer electronics has been affected by the rise of the app, and as a result, consumers will face a bewildering number of app stores this year.

In the case of multi-platform apps (Rhapsody, Pandora, Angry Birds, Words With Friends) app users will be faced with the option to choose an app or buy a subscription on a variety of platforms once, after which we can access the same account on other app-running devices — a situation that contains the seeds for a major showdown among these app stores.

Intel launched its AppUp store to run on netbooks; can it and other computer-oriented app stores compete with Apple after it launches its Mac App Store in 2011?

The stakes, because whichever app store sells an app, or a subscription — say, a $10/month unlimited music subscription — stands to claim a percentage of revenue even as users access the service on other platforms, as well as a percentage of sales.

Here’s at least a partial list of app stores for 2011 in alphabetical order (please send any additions to ‘evolver dash tips at echonest dot com’ or add them to the comments section below):

Apple iTunes: Launched in July 2008, iTunes has more apps and downloads than any other app store, and Apple’s FairPlay lets music apps stream to Apple TV and Airport Express, as well as directly to consumer electronics like sound systems and speakers.

Apple Mac App Store: launching in early 2011, according to Steve Jobs, as the app concept invented for the smartphone continues to pervade other forms of computing.

Boxee: The latest release of Boxee, available in hardware or “build your own” form, lets you install hundreds of apps “developed by Boxee or trusted sources” from the official Boxee store or from third-party Boxee app stores (Boxee calls them “repositories”). So far, music-wise, the fact that this freely-downloadable program can play Flash is a win, but developers haven’t exactly been flocking here the way they have elsewhere, as Boxee overall is designed mainly for video. One survival strategy to survive among larger platforms, Boxee told Evolver.fm, might be to become an app itself, housing multiple apps/services within its own interface the same way its Boxee Box and software do now.

Ford Sync: Ford’s Sync, a big story at CES’s past, announced a new feature in December called AppLink that lets the car’s dashboard control music apps on the smartphones people already use. In its current configuration, Sync is designed to interface with apps on smartphones, but according to insiders, car companies are also working on ways to run apps natively on car dashboards.

The current web version of the Android Marketplace is, oh, just a little bit out of date (or is Imeem still around?).

Google Android Marketplace is currently accessible only from Android devices,although a skeleton site (to the right) presents a selection of apps. In addition to the Marketplace on their phones, users can download apps from third-party app stores, at least a couple of which have been fingered for including malware. Still, that problem was isolated, and it’s easy to get your apps from a safe source such as the official Android Marketplace, which Google reportedly plans to make available on the web in the coming months, which should help — as should the fact that Android is now the quickest-growing smartphone app platform.

Google Chrome Web App Store launched with 23 music apps.

Google TV App Store: Google says it plans to launch Google TV units in 2011 with multiple hardware partners that allow users to install their own Android apps, rather than just the ones Google picks, which is how current Google TVs works. (This could coincide with the launch of the web-based version of the Android Marketplace, or be launched as a part of that.)

HP/Palm Pre App Catalog is currently for Palm Pre smartphones. HP is expected to launch WebOS tablets after CES, but we’d expect Palm’s app store to surface there too.

Intel AppUp Center (pictured above) is targeted to netbooks, but so far, is losing to Apple’s iPad as far as apps for netbooks/tablets are concerned.

Microsoft Windows Mobile 6 app store won’t likely be a factor over the next few years, due to…

Microsoft Windows Phone 7: one music app developer we spoke with reported great success on this platform, which like many other smartphone app stores on this list, has still struggled to make major inroads with consumers. However, Microsoft also has other platforms that run apps, which could make Windows Phone 7 more useful over time.

Nokia Ovi: Three million smartphone app downloads and counting for Nokia, which resists pressure from commentators to switch over to Android or Palm WebOS.

Samsung Apps run on phones with Samsung’s Bada OS in countries around the world (not including the U.S.).

Skifta: This might be considered more of a mobile app platform than an app store, but Skifta’s “Russian nesting doll” approach allows music and other apps to send audio and video to speakers, televisions, and other devices wirelessly, using the DLNA standard (a sort of alternative to Apple AirPlay) from within the app — and that makes this Qualcomm subsidiary an app platform of sorts that could become more of a factor in 2011 and beyond.

Sony PlayStation Phone App Store: reportedly launching in 2011, the PlayStation Phone will come with its own app store called Sony Marketplace.

Toyota Entune offers a variety of apps natively and allows the car's voice controls to affect smartphone apps.

Toyota Entune (pictured right): Along the lines of Ford Sync, Toyota launched its own in-dash app integration on Tuesday that likewise lets you view smartphone music apps on your car’s dashboard and control them with your voice as well as your car’s buttons and dials or your smartphone. Music plays back via wireless Bluetooth over the car’s stereo system. You’ll have to install the Toyota Entune app in order for it all to work, though.

Not to mention Roku, Logitech SqueezeNetwork, Sonos, and other smaller platforms where music apps are running these days, even if they lack stores of their own.

Honorable mentions hopefully coming soon:

Microsoft Xbox Live Marketplace: Like other gaming consoles, Microsoft’s Xbox platform is focused on gaming apps with obvious reason. But given the fact that gaming consoles are often connected to the internet, speakers and a television, it would make sense for them to expand further into music app territory over the course of the year, in addition to offering the company’s own Zune music app, already available for Xbox and Windows Phone 7.

Nintendo music apps: Nintendo doesn’t dabble much in the area of music apps, although online forums are rife with requests that it add listening options. The DSi-Ware store doesn’t currently offer music apps. The Nintendo Wii Store recently added Netflix (Nintendo calls it a “Channel”), so as with Sony, native music apps for the Nintendo Wii may not be far behind.

Sony Playstation music apps: Like the other gaming consoles, Sony, which has run several music services in the past, could offer music apps for the PlayStation, possibly including its own, in addition to the music games it already lists. PlayStation Network already offers moviestelevision shows, and a Netflix app.

We likely missed one or two, so again, please send suggestions to ‘evolver dash tips at echonest dot com’ or add them to comments.

Photo: Flickr/lrargerich