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appstore_hero20081217Smartphone applications are one of the biggest trends going, one that will only get bigger in 2009. Not exactly unexpected, especially for anyone who’s followed Salesforce.com’s (NYSE: CRM) AppExchange model. But despite how Google’s Android (NASDAQ: GOOG) foreshadowed the market, it’s taken the brilliance of Steve Jobs to get the ball rolling.

On the one hand, the dynamics are similar to ring tones

  1. Cheap. A few bucks each; some are free
  2. Easy. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) sets the standard for ease-of-use, though with the usual drawbacks that come from its closed system. Android’s market will be a little more “wild west”, but probably more innovative for it.
  3. Not originated by the service provider. The best services never are, telcos are about as innovative as rocks.
  4. Customizable. Make your phone personal, whether it’s playing apps or having different ring tones for each caller.
  5. Cachet. Everyone wants the latest “cool” app, just like they wanted the most popular songs to sound out whenever their phone rings.

On the other hand, the mobile phone app phenomenon is also evolving into an analogue for the gaming industry, with developers writing apps for one of only a few “platforms” (e.g. iPhone, Windows Mobile, Android, etc.). I expect to see developers selling versions of their apps onto multiple platforms, especially for the more popular ones, just as happens with game consoles.

The last, and most ominous similarity, is with Windows. Despite the existence of Android, there’s a chance the iPhone could become the uber platform, with most apps being written for it (at least first), creating a Microsoft-like dominance of phone applications. All of which leads to the following prediction for the New Year:

The most widespread iPhone application in 2009 will be a virus.

Think about it. All the elements are already there:

  • Rocketing platform/device popularity with a growing market share
  • Viral growth in application number and complexity, providing plenty of ready vectors for the introduction of malicious code
  • Existence of a large, dedicated, developer base
  • A ready black market for both hardware and software–which means plenty of hackers.

virus_alertsDespite assurances to the contrary from its PR department, Apple software is not virus proof. It’s largely benefited from a lack of attention given its small (though growing) share of the desktop/laptop market. But the success of the iPhone changes those dynamics. Already, iphone dev team has unlocked the iPhone 3G, and is even now delivering its yellowsn0w software to the masses.

True, Android will undoubtedly be more vulnerable, given its marketplace model and the lack of a central control. But betting against hackers has always been a sucker play, and it will remain so even for the iPhone. Just ask the Blu-ray folks.

The predators are circling. And it’s only a matter of time.

Disclosure: The author holds no position in any of the stocks mentioned here.