Will exploding apps go the 'dotcom' way?

N Madhavan

India, Sept. 30 -- We keep hearing so much of the snazzy new smartphones: iPhone5, Nokia Lumia 920, Samsung Galaxy S3, HTC One X and more. I have been saying time and again that smartphones are not about the handsets, but the apps in them or the ones that work with them. Digital lifestyles are in the end about what you do in a connected world.

The applications or apps in the smartphones are critical. Both iOS, Apple's mobile operating system and Windows, not to speak of Google-backed Android, have hundreds of thousands of apps each, helping you do everything from sending free SMSes to learning music or making your travel easy. There must be a million apps out there by now.

Software developers and content creators have jumped in the fray to make apps for smartphones and tablets. Som-etimes they remind me of the 'dotcom' boom of 1998-2000. There was so much optimism in the air, because every kid starting up a new venture thou-ght he was a potential Bill Gat-es. Sadly, most of the Internet dotcoms, many of whom little more than glorified websites, went bust as flaming failures. Only a handful like Amazon really survived to grow. Even the mighty Yahoo is struggling.

I am writing all this after being in touch with young, eager developers over the past few days. They have bright ideas and cool apps. And I ask: what are they going to do get the money in?

We now have the Apple app store, Google's Play store and other such online places to shop for apps, but I think this is a crude beginning. Most apps seem to be free - much like the dotcoms that were betting on advertisements that didn't come at the turn of the century.

The simple fact is that in the connected world, apps will really make sense only if many of them have content services and partnerships properly tied up, with revenue models and sustainable upgrades. Also, too many me-too apps won't make sense.

Twitter and Facebook are success stories because of the people connected on them, not the small pieces of software that tie them, though they play a key role. App makers need to think in detail on how they will scale up and make money, if their enthusiasm is to turn fruitful.

The Internet economy needs to go beyond online stores to a culture in which the right apps are spotted and nurtured. That should be the next wave of growth in the Digital Age.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.