Filling Up Empty App Stores

Companies want to sell apps for set-top boxes, netbooks, and tablets, but they need help attracting exhausted developers.

A new product from Adobe, InMarket, represents the next step in the company’s battle to help software developers publish their applications as widely as possible. It could also blunt the effects of Apple’s blockade against Adobe’s flagship product, Flash.

App parent: Adobe’s new product, InMarket, above, lets application developers publish their products to several app stores at once and manage them from one place.

Apple has the distinction of running what’s commonly called “the” app store, but plenty of other companies offer consumers similar marketplaces. The huge numbers of apps that people download for mobile devices have cemented the role of the app store, no matter who offers it. An app store makes a device more valuable by giving people more ways to use it, and software developers have embraced this way of distributing the programs they create.

There’s a dark side to the boom, however. Many consumers have felt the pain of hearing about a cool app and finding out that they can’t get it for their device. Few developers have the time and resources to write applications that run on any device, let alone to negotiate all the deals they would need to get into every app store. And companies that want to open an app store have to attract these exhausted developers and convince them that the time and money they invest in this new market will pay off.

With InMarket, announced Monday at an annual Adobe conference in Los Angeles, the company plans to handle all the difficulties of working with an app store. Developers could submit apps through InMarket and have them automatically go to all of Adobe’s partner stores. Adobe would handle the payment details, and the developer could access any money made from the app through a single interface. On the other side of things, Adobe plans to deliver applications to app stores that desperately need content.

“We’re trying to make it so the developer only has to deal with one company, and we’ll take care of all the complexity behind the scenes,” says Dave Gruber, group product marketing manager for Adobe.

Adobe plans to launch with Intel’s AppUp store, which offers applications for netbooks, as its first partner. The company also has deals with Samsung (including for its app store aimed at set-top boxes) and Acer. Gruber says that the company expects to have 10 stores supported by InMarket in 2011, on such devices as tablets, set-top boxes, and phones.

InMarket will be integrated with other tools from Adobe that help developers write applications that can be published in the variety of formats suited for the different app stores.

Teaming up with less-established app stores could help Adobe put pressure on Apple, which won’t let Flash run on its iPhones and iPads. , says Jeffrey Hammond, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. “As a developer, I’m far more likely to submit to alternative stores if the amount of work I have to do for each is minimized,” he says. “Over the next few years, we’re going to see stores springing up all over the place.”

Meanwhile, Adobe gives developers a good reason to use the Flash technology that underlies InMarket. Al Hilwa, program director for applications development software at the research firm IDC, says that if Adobe can succeed with InMarket, and with its efforts to get Flash on viable iPhone competitors such as the newest BlackBerry and Windows 7 phones, “I have no doubt Apple will relent.”

Many alternative app stores are struggling to fill their storefronts with products that attract consumers, says Ilja Laurs, founder and CEO of GetJar, an independent app store that boasts download numbers second only to Apple’s. “There’s a fight going on for developer attention,” he says. Laurs notes that about 95 percent of applications are produced by one-man shops, not big companies, and that these people can’t deal with repeating complex application processes to get their products seen. Instead, they focus on the top app stores.

But Laurs questions whether traffic from alternative stores adds up to anything significant. When GetJar launched, he says, the company focused on forming partnerships with wireless carriers and device manufacturers, offering itself as the app store for more than 50 of those companies. But only 7 percent of GetJar’s downloads come from these partnerships, with the rest coming directly from GetJar’s storefront. As a result, the company has stopped focusing on forming partnerships with alternative app stores.

Gruber could not say for certain whether Adobe would make a deal with a major player such as the Android Market. But the company needs to offer attractive numbers of potential downloads to developers if it wants to bring applications into the stores operated by its smaller partners.

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