There is a new race to the top game on the Internet and it's not about academic excellence. It's about getting our eyeballs, clicks and personal details (as usual). The runners include Facebook's App Center, Apple's App Store, Amazon's Appstore, Google's Play, Microsoft's Marketplace, Valve's Steam and a countless host of indie digital distribution channels. One of my favorites: Ubuntu Software Centre (for the causal hacker, too lazy to type sudo apt-get install.)
All these app stores competing mercilessly against each other must be confusing the heck out of ordinary Internet citizens. There are over 18 versions of Angry Birds, one for every conceivable device powered by a computer chip. I'm sure this is just the beginning. Soon my toaster and car will be flightless-irate-avian enabled. There is an old joke in the hacker world that all sufficiently mature software programs eventually gain the ability to send email. We can now safely say that the same principle applies to smart devices and app stores.
The app store contest is both a marathon and a sprint. Today's race is just the latest lap around the "software store" track. In the '90s, locked apps on CD were all the rage and in the '00s, online shareware directories were the wave of the future. The stakes are much higher this round: The general idea is to hook us into an ecosystem of services with free and inexpensive apps as the bait. The idea is working for Apple (and really only Apple right now). Facebook, Google, Microsoft and all the others are just playing catchup with the front runner and eventually they will all have phones, readers, pads and set-top boxes for us to play with.
My advice to the savvy digital consumer is to play the field, don't bet on a single runner to win, enjoy the spectacle, and always, always, download wisely.