All go on planet of the apps

Consumers are pushing the tech industry to come up with better ways to access the billions of apps they have downloaded.

There are now more applications from Apple's store that have been downloaded on to digital devices such as smartphones and tablets than there are people on the planet.

Fact box: Odd world of wacky apps: There are plenty of weird and wacky applications to wade through, here are a few:

Phoney Call This US$4.99 (Dh18.32) app for the BlackBerry simulates calls with pre-recorded sounds to help you fake a conversation in case you need an excuse to escape early. The app's maker also claims it can help professionals, such as property agents and used-car salesmen, by faking an incoming call from another "interested buyer" and challenging a client to offer a higher price.

Puppy Talk This free app from Nokia's Ovi Store features a cute, animated puppy. In a squeaky voice, it can also repeat what is said to it. It works in almost any language, including Arabic.

Endomondo Sports Tracker This app could help people get fitter by tracking the distance, speed and calories burned during a walk, run or bicycle ride. While another version with additional features sells for $15.95, this one is free from Google's Android market.

Knot Guide Outdoor enthusiasts might find this app particularly useful. Users can swipe through step-by-step images that teach them how to master more than 90 knots, including those used for sailing, fishing and climbing. It's available through Apple's App Store, for $1.99, and also covers basic terms and "knot lingo".

App Store boasts more than 10 billion downloads while the world's population is about 6.9 billion.

Beyond Apple, gadgets with Google's Android software make up another 3 billion.

Then there is Research In Motion (RIM), which this week activated its app store for the BlackBerry in the UAE and says more than 1.5 million apps are pulled off its digital shelves globally every day.

But while all of these figures are fine for businesses to brag about, what does it mean for the typical consumer? For many, this growing collection translates into apps that may not always be accessed across all of their gadgets, which can be annoying given how addictive these tools, including flight trackers, restaurant recommenders and interactive games, can be.

Raghu Venkataraman, the chief strategy and investments officer at the telecommunications company du, and his family have about 400 apps sprinkled across a handful of different phones, a tablet computer and a digital music player.

Mr Venkataraman spent about Dh2,900 (US$790) over nine months buying those software programmes.

"I've gone app crazy," says Mr Venkataraman, who spoke at the app development conference, Planet of the Apps, in Dubai last month.

Of his 400 apps, about half were free to download and those that were not included four bought by his son - without Mr Venkataraman's knowledge - for a total of $40. Globally, consumers spent more than $1.7 billion on apps last year alone, and that figure is projected to grow to $38bn in revenues by 2015, according to a report from Forrester Research, a market data company.

Yet, Mr Venkataraman warns not everyone has been fully satisfied with their app-buying experiences. He argues companies are getting too caught up in thinking customers care about the specific brands selling apps, whether it be from Apple, RIM or the recent partnership venture between Nokia and Microsoft. "The customer doesn't care about the brands," says Mr Venkataraman. Rather, he notes, they just want to get hold of whatever type of app they want.

One of the most important factors among consumers buying a new phone are the applications available for that device, according to a survey conducted last year in the US by comScore, a digital market research company.

But one of the biggest drawbacks customers face today stems from an inability to access the same app on multiple gadgets.

Some apps designed for RIM's new PlayBook tablet will not work on Apple's latest iPad. Sometimes, apps for the PlayBook will not even work on BlackBerry smartphones, even though RIM created both gadgets. It is a recurring problem across the industry.

App developers argue these kinds of inconveniences are largely the fault of phone makers, who do not always make it easy to deploy an app across multiple devices.

Mobile smartphone makers such as RIM, however, contend a developer can submit a programme and choose which devices the application will run on.

"They can say this version is for the PlayBook, this version is for the smartphone," says Sanyu Kiruluta, RIM's team lead for developer relations in Europe, Middle East and Africa. Some individuals have recommended mobile manufacturers team up and create an open platform to allow customers to pick and choose apps that could work on multiple phone and tablet makers' devices.

Although Nokia launched its joint venture with Microsoft this year to create a new app store, the company does not see itself repeating that any time soon.

"We don't believe we need to collaborate with another player," says Tom Farrell, the general manager of Nokia Lower Gulf. "There's a big risk there," he adds, noting such collaboration could harm competition in the industry.

Other mobile phone makers agree.

"Why do you want us to be buddy-buddy?" says Ms Kiruluta. "We want to compete."

Consumers may also start to see apps change, as more developers discover, when they break the numbers down, the industry is often not as lucrative as it at first seems.

On average, it costs $7,000 to create an app, although the typical return on investment is still only about $4,000 in revenues, says Karim Taga, the managing director in the Vienna office of Arthur D Little, a business consultancy.

"The majority are losing money," he says. That is why some app developers are weighing two possible solutions for reducing costs and driving up revenues.

"One is moving towards web applications, which means we can develop one [app] and deploy it across a number of different platforms," says Chris Johnstone, the managing director of SevDotCom, a web development firm based in Dubai.

If that approach catches on across the industry, it could help consumers who want to access the same app across multiple devices.

The second strategy involves incorporating adverts into apps to create a stronger revenue stream for developers.

"Mobile advertising is a big and important part of that," says Mr Johnstone.

It is unlikely such an approach would find much favour among consumers.