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Brad Spirrison

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Bearish Apple Analysts Follow Long Line of App Doubters

Posted: 04/30/12 06:23 PM ET

Wall Street analysts who foolishly downgraded Apple before another monstrous earnings report last week are not the only ones who should eat a little crow.

It may seem surreal to think about now, but it wasn't too long ago when some of the smartest tech industry commentators and executives were dismissing apps as fads or (if here to stay) "bad for your health".

That's right. Before there were more than one million apps available for iOS, Android, and Microsoft-powered mobile devices, before 50 million tablets (which are essentially worthless without apps) were sold, and before one-time HTML5 champion Facebook ponied up $1 billion to acquire Instagram, many viewed apps as a technological diversion comparable to the Betamax or 8-track player.

Tens of billions of app downloads later, of course, we know that apps are here to stay. Even if valuations for young app companies are approaching dot-com proportions (see Viddy's $370 million valuation) and we are about to see another bubble burst, consumer adoption of apps (like with the Internet) will increase regardless of how markets rise and fall.

While many of us years ago articulated why apps would ultimately flourish, there were more than a few notable prognosticators that we respect that clearly had it wrong. Here are some of our favorite predictions of the death of apps that now seem greatly exaggerated.

This investor thought apps were "crap"

On February 17, 2010, venture capitalist/blogger Mark Suster wrote a post "App is Crap (why Apple is bad for your health)" that said the following:

I'm now a VC. Everybody and their mothers are coming into my offices proclaiming that their developing the latest iPhone app. Kleiner Perkins launches an iFund. The new manta [sic] is "what are you doing about the iPhone." I have the same gag reflexes. The model is all wrong.


I know that there is a period of time where apps need to reign. But I for one am betting that the future is "the mobile web" not the "the mobile app." There will always be some apps that have reasons to be native on devices but I am betting that serious innovation will happen on mobile browsers and that the future will so [sic] most apps folded into the cloud.

BlackBerry's spoiled strategy

On November 16, 2010 at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, then Research in Motion co-CEO Jim Balsille said the following in response to an earlier jab from Steve Jobs about iPhones taking over market share from BlackBerries.

We believe that you can bring the mobile to the Web but you don't need to go through some kind of control point of an SDK, and that's the core part of our message. You don't need an app for the Web.

Before there were 400,000 Android apps

At MobileBeat 2009, when Android was still a fledgling mobile operating system with a handful of third-party apps, Google's vice president of engineering Vic Gundotra boasted that browsers would ultimately win out.

Many, many applications can be delivered through the browser and what that does for our costs is stunning... We believe the web has won and over the next several years, the browser, for economic reasons almost, will become the platform that matters and certainly that's where Google is investing.

Additional skepticism of app-driven devices

Long before Forrester Research predicted the inevitable decline of Apple under Tim Cook, the company thought the iPad had no chance of any long-term success. In June 2010, even after two million first-generation iPads were sold in the product's first two months on the market, analyst Sarah Rotman Epps predicted that only 3.5 million iPads would sell by year-end.

Consumers didn't ask for tablets... In fact, Forrester's data shows that the top features consumers say they want in a PC are a complete mismatch with the features of the iPad.

Apple ended up selling more than 15 million iPads in 2010, and to date has sold nearly 70 million units from all three generations of the product.

Last but not least

This final one comes courtesy of a recent post from MG Siegler. Shortly after the original iPhone was unveiled in January 2007, Bloomberg columnist Matthew Lynn labeled it a "luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks." But that's not all.

There are already big companies that dominate the space, all of whom will defend their turf. That means Apple will have to fight hard for every sale... the iPhone is a defensive product. It is mainly designed to protect the iPod, which is coming under attack from mobile manufacturers adding music players to their handsets... Apple will sell a few to its fans, but the iPhone won't make a long-term mark on the industry.
 

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