Do We Need An Apple App Store For Web Apps?

Is there room in the world for an Apple-like mobile software store comprised of web apps? Teck Chia thinks there is and he just launched the OpenAppMkt to prove it. His solution is a combination of a website and an iOS4 app that centralizes both free and paid web apps. Listing a web app doesn’t cost a dime, but developers offering paid web apps will give a 20 percent revenue cut to Chia.

I asked Chia a few questions by email about his endeavor, mainly because I’m not convinced that there’s a need for such a product. After all, Apple already lists web apps for iOS4 devices and doesn’t charge developers for the listing. Chia’s responses:

We have a mobile webapp that is very familiar to users of the Apple app store, so they can browse and easily install webapps to their homescreen just like they have been doing with native apps. The webapp is very indistinguishable from a native app from the standpoint of usability. We provide an integrated and seamless way for developers to sell apps on the iPhone directly. The payment system we implemented is very familiar to every iPhone user. You enter credit card once and then subsequent purchases are just a password confirmation to buy.

So there is a convenience factor offered by OpenAppMkt. The software and store make it easy to find and “intstall” a web app by adding a shortcut to a user’s bookmarks or home screen. And end-users are familiar with this type of interface. But I’m still hung up on why a developer would offer up a revenue share when they can easily provide web apps themselves. Chia disagreed with me on this point in our email conversation:

If a developer were to do payment processing herself, she would be hard-pressed to find rates below a 2.x% + $0.30 fee for each credit card transaction. For apps that are $0.99 (most popular price for apps), that is 32%+ taken away from your revenue already. Not to mention that small developers would find it difficult to get approved for a merchant account.

Again, there’s convenience involved, only this time it is for the programmer. There is a value-add offered then to both developer and consumer, but I’m not convinced there’s enough of it there for OpenAppMkt. And the use of web-based apps took on the role of a second class citizen when Apple opened up its mobile app store in 2008. One item in favor of Chia, however, is the evolution of HTML5 and the new capabilities it can bring to web apps such as offline storage and databases. The promise of robust web-apps in the future could be positioning the OpenAppMkt well now, but that remains to be seen. Is Chia on to something or is such an effort simply not needed in today’s world of app stores?

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