Sun plans to launch an App Store for Java Desktop applications.


As reported a little while ago, Sun plans to launch their own app store for Java-based desktop applications. With Apple’s App Store having passed the one-billion download mark last month and thus proving to be a roaring success, it’s clear that Sun, like many others, is hoping to imitate and perhaps improve on the effort. But does it make sense?

Mobile vs. Desktop

Following in the steps of RIM, Google’s Android, Palm and others, Sun hopes to follow the same pattern of success that Apple has enjoyed with their App Store. However, things are a bit different here. All the current App Store competitors have a separate mobile platform with which to compete against Apple. In general, this business model makes sense because there are few other easy ways to get software onto the devices, so a centralized app store of sorts makes sense.

In Apple’s case, they intended from the beginning to have the App Store be the only way to get software onto their devices. This closed-model and high level of control, which Apple is known for, is what helped make the App Store so popular. It was also very easy to use, and provided functionality not available elsewhere. Other mobile app stores aim to emulate this “app store tie-in”, hoping to make their respective app stores the primary place to get new software for your device, thus providing the companies with a steady source of revenue.

On the desktop, thing’s aren’t so clear. For the most part, people are already able to freely and easily download/purchase and install software, either through their web browser or through content delivery systems like Steam. Sun will have some real competition on their hands because of this, and unless they can create the ecosystem to spawn “killer apps”, people won’t be flocking to it in droves. Currently, there are just too many options for getting new software onto your desktop, thanks to the openness of the system, and this will be a real problem for Sun when it comes to gaining any significant market share in this area.

Furthermore, as noted in the article, there haven’t been very many compelling Java apps, save for Eclipse and Azureus. (I only use the former) Java on the desktop just hasn’t been as much of a success as Sun would’ve hoped for, mainly because Java desktop applications haven’t had the same consistent look & feel that native OS applications have offered, with some notable exceptions like Eclipse. While Java has gained much acceptance on the server side, it may have to settle for this before looking to gain significant acceptance on the desktop anytime soon.

App Store Hype?

It should be also noted that while the Apple’s App Store has been a roaring success for the company itself, it seems that it’s not as much of a success for the vast majority of developers out there. Like most markets with low-barriers to entry, (blogging for profit, startups, etc.) the distribution of revenue seems to follow a long-tail model, with very few developers making a lot of money, with the rest only making a fraction of that.

This was highlighted by a recent TechCrunch article about the reality of the App Store, which referenced an original article by an App Store developer. In that article, the developer revealed that because there were so many apps available for download, it didn’t take much to get into the top 100 for a given category:

In order to place #34 on the social networking charts, you need 30-35 downloads a day. At the standard app store pricing of .99, and after Apple takes its cut, that means your app needs to bring in a little over $20 a day to chart at that position. And social networking is a popular category.

Thus, it would appear that App Store not as profitable for developers as the hype or large success stories would suggest. You may have a compelling app that is nicely done, but it may only make a marginal amount instead of the six-figure amounts being seen by some of the most successful apps. If this is the case with even a successful implementation like Apple’s App Store, how does this bode for Sun, which hasn’t even proven that their Java app store can enjoy similar success? Indeed, it appears that they will have a hard time attracting developers to their app store platform.

Mind you, this hasn’t stopped people from even speculating about an Ubuntu app store, though it’s hard to see this business model working well with the FOSS model of Ubuntu. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be unrealistic, given that Canonical is trying to make Android apps run on Ubuntu, possibly allow for Android’s app store to make an entrance to the desktop through this backdoor method.

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