OpenAppMkt: The Return of the iPhone Web App?

7/30/10Follow @wroush

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the site invites you to create an OpenAppMkt icon on your home screen, so you can get back to the store as easily as you would fire up the native App Store.

But while doing all this on the Web makes it easier to share and gives developers more control, Chia and his colleagues didn’t create OpenAppMkt as a political statement. They’re entrepreneurs, after all. For all app sales processed through OpenAppMkt, the startup collects a 20 percent commission (in contrast to Apple’s 30 percent take).

"Starry Night" app page on OpenAppMkt“We’re extremely serious about this,” says Chia. So far, the startup has been bootstrapped, but now that it has launched the marketplace and begun to evangelize it, the company will start seeking outside investment, he says.

But is there really a viable supply of Web apps, not to mention real consumer demand for them? And why would any iPhone user go to OpenAppMkt, when browsing the iTunes App Store is as easy as walking down the aisles of a candy store?

Chia acknowledges that many of the existing Web apps developed for the iPhone—especially the ones you’ll find in Apple’s Web Apps Directory—are outdated holdovers from 2007-2008, before the advent of the App Store. But he points out that many new native apps for the iPhone are actually developed using a combination of Web development tools—HTML 5, CSS, and JavaScript—and are simply compiled as native apps for the iTunes App Store, the Android Marketplace, or other mobile app stores before they’re distributed. In most cases, these apps could easily be sold in their raw Web form through OpenAppMkt.

In fact, some of the apps featured in OpenAppMkt today, such as the adventure game Hand of Greed and a sketchpad program called Harmonious, are also available as native iPhone apps. The developers “released the Web app for free just to get people to buy the native app,” Chia says.

Given the fact that Apple has been promoting HTML 5 and its built-in rich media capabilities as an alternative to Adobe’s Flash format, the Cupertino giant ought to welcome initiatives like OpenAppMkt that encourage the development of more HTML 5-based Web apps for the iPhone. On the other hand, if OpenAppMkt were to emerge as a serious competitor to the iTunes App Store, Apple might feel differently.

But part of the advantage of doing everything through the browser—right down to the OpenAppMkt store itself—is that Apple can’t do anything to stop it. “We don’t have a native app at all, and if they tried to block our domain we could just switch to another one,” says Chia. “So there is no way for them to really ban us.”

But he emphasizes that he’d like to establish friendly relations with Apple. “We are not here to compete against the native App Store,” Chia says. “We are here to provide an alternative, and provide more choices, and to give Web developers like ourselves an easy way to distribute their apps.”

If OpenAppMkt catches on with iPhone users, Chia says the company will work on an Android version, and then perhaps an iPad version. “Android is the next platform we’re targeting,” he says. “The only reason we don’t support it right now is because adding an app icon to the home screen requires a few more steps than on the iPhone.”

For a full list of my columns, check out the World Wide Wade Archive. You can also subscribe to the column via RSS or e-mail, and you can download Pixel Nation, an e-book version of the first 80 columns, as a free PDF file or a $4.99 Kindle edition.

Wade Roush is Xconomy's chief correspondent and editor of Xconomy San Francisco. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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