PocketGear buys Handango, Highlights App Store Evolution

Handango, one of the original mobile app distributors, has been acquired by PocketGear in a deal announced this morning, the terms of which were not disclosed. An 11-year-old Dallas-area firm, Handango — like its rival Handmark — helped pioneer the app store model by distributing apps to devices running Palm (s palm), Windows Mobile (s msft), BlackBerry (s rimm) and Symbian before expanding to Android (s goog). PocketGear in 2008 was founded as a spinoff from Motricity, which is now hoping to raise $250 million through an initial public offering.

The combined company hopes to better compete with Apple’s (s aapl) App Store and the Android Market as well as content aggregators such as GetJar, which delivers titles to a wide variety of devices. But the move also scores how dramatically the mobile app space has evolved in the last few years thanks to Apple and its rivals, which have made it much make it easier for consumers to find and download mobile apps. Early players like Handmark gained traction among some tech-savvy smartphone users, but because their storefronts were never embedded on devices most users were blind to them. And users who were aware of them had to create standalone credit card accounts and jump through other hoops to download apps to their handsets, which often weren’t great at running apps anyway.

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Image courtesy Flickr user Finnur.