The Coming Gold Rush

Like many of you, I’m sure, I’m thinking about the coming iPhone app gold rush. I’m thinking about App Store Day 1 (and month 1 and year 1).

To-dos and Tweets

One prediction — almost a gimme — is that we’ll see tons of to-do lists and Twitter clients. The best of the to-do list apps will sync using an online to-do list (Ta-da List, for example). And Twitter clients of course sync with Twitter.

I have questions about to-do lists: will we have about 10 good ones (and 100 bad ones)? Or will there be one that has some user interaction hook, some cool innovation, that makes it win the category? And, if so, how long before that hook is copied?

After all, iPhone apps are smaller than Mac apps — copying some cool user interaction is probably easier (in general) than it is for Mac apps.

And given the super-high level of interest in writing for iPhone, it may be a very competitive field — way more competitive than Mac developers are used to.

And then there’s The Cloud

The thing about to-do lists and Twitter clients is that they connect to a server or servers: they connect to the web, to the cloud.

Stand-alone apps on your iPhone are almost useless. You want things to sync.

Some of the Mac apps you use right now might sync to your iPhone locally, using some kind of networking, without having to go out to The Cloud. In this model, the iPhone app is kind of a satellite of a Mac app. (You can imagine your favorite Mac note-taking app with an iPhone version, with notes synced to your phone when your phone is in the same local network as your Mac.)

But my guess is that most new apps will sync with The Cloud. Which leads me to a few thoughts:

1. The iFund money is Cloud money.

That is, developing an iPhone app itself may not be that expensive. But developing — and running and maintaining and scaling — a server app for the iPhone to talk to is expensive.

2. People writing apps to connect to existing cloud apps might find competition from the cloud developers.

If you write a to-do list app that syncs with (again, just an example) Ta-da List, you might find that the Ta-da List folks are also building an iPhone app. They may not have bothered with a Mac app, but they know as well as we do that there’s an iPhone gold rush coming.

(I have zero inside knowledge, by the way. I picked Ta-da List precisely because I know almost nothing about it or its creators.)

Right now, Mac developers who write apps that connect to some cloud service usually get thanked by the cloud folks, who weren’t going to write a Mac app. But that could seriously change with the iPhone. (However, in some cases there will still be great opportunities for iPhone apps that work with a number of different but similar-in-purpose web apps. Imagine an app that works with Twitter, Jaiku, and Pownce.)

3. Web development sequence may change — APIs could come first.

The typical sequence for a web app: the browser-based HTML version comes first. Then APIs. Then client apps.

But, for anyone joining in the iPhone gold rush, the sequence might be: APIs and iPhone client developed simultaneously, then a browser-based HTML version, then, optionally, clients for Mac, Windows, and Linux.

The engineer in me loves the idea of starting with APIs. ;)

Other opportunities

There’s a thriving Mac web right now, with everything from personal and company weblogs to Daring Fireball to Macworld.

Some of these sites will also cover iPhone apps — but there will, I expect, also be a rush to have the coolest iPhone site.

The biggest need I can see is for reviews.

It’s possible the App Store will have user comments, but it’s unlikely that it will have high-quality reviews. (I have no inside knowledge whatsoever.)

I expect 100 different to-do list apps, but I’ll want the best one — and I’ll look at reviews sites to help me find it. So the keys are quality and volume. Tricky.

But I bet someone figures it out.

18 Mar 2008

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