The idea of having apps on a smartphone is nothing new. I remember when the Palm Treo was the smart device to have and you could scour the web for all sorts of interesting Palm OS applications, including to-do lists, productivity tools and even games. Then, we started to see more devices with Windows CE and Windows Mobile, further expanding the market for mostly Java-based apps. The problem was that these apps were scattered all over the place.

The iPhone 3G certainly wasn’t the first smartphone to get apps, but the iTunes App Store changed things. Instead of going to 100 different websites to get 100 different apps, you could go to one “official” repository where the apps were presumably vetted by Apple. You could get them directly from your phone, rather than downloading to your computer and then transferring the JAR file over via USB. From there, similar app stores were born for the other platforms, like Nokia Ovi Store, Google’s Play Store (previously known as Android Market), BlackBerry World (previously App World) and so on. It just made things so much easier.

But we’ve run into another problem. Some apps that are available for one platform aren’t necessarily available for the others. Even if you have a smartphone that has great specs and features on paper, few people will want it unless you have all the big apps that they also want to have. Those specs just don’t matter all that much, assuming that they meet a reasonably minimum threshold.

That’s one of the biggest hurdles facing platforms like Windows Phone and, more recently, BlackBerry 10. The relatively smaller number of apps is one of the reasons why many Android and iOS people are not getting the BlackBerry Z10. How can you go from a store with nearly a million apps to one that “only” has 70,000? How can you go from a smartphone that you love that has such apps as HootSuite and Instagram to one that, even though it may even be more powerful, does not have these apps that you want to use?

It would be like buying a video game console that has the beefiest specs on Earth, pumping out the most impressive graphics, but it doesn’t have any of the games that you want to play. It’s pointless. You’re better off with a weaker console that actually does have all the games you want to play. Apps on smartphones and tablets are much the same way.

Even though the Galaxy Note II is enjoying unexpectedly high levels of success, people are mostly getting it for the larger display and less so because of the S Pen functionality that really separates the Note from the main Galaxy S family. There just aren’t a lot of apps that capitalize on the S Pen in the same way that the more wide-reaching Android apps do.

And yes, even though the iPhone 5 may not be quite as powerful as some other devices on the market, it continues to sell well because Apple’s App Store is so robust, so well populated with so many apps. The apps sell the phone and not necessarily the hardware. This is quite different from regular PCs. When buying an Ultrabook, you do pay attention to the specs. When building your own desktop PC, you do look at the amount of RAM and the performance of the GPU. Specs still matter there for people who need the horsepower and while specs make an impact in the mobile market, the apps play an even bigger role.

I understand where app developers are coming from. Why would you develop for a platform with a much smaller user base than iOS or Android? You follow the money and, hopefully, the money will follow you. That being said, by using development platforms like the one at, it’s possible to develop an app once and deploy it across just about everything. This way, you’re not just making an iPhone app, as it easily ported and distributed to Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and even Symbian OS. And all without any more real legwork than developing “just” an iPhone app.

Until Windows Phone, BlackBerry 10 and, to a lesser extent, other platforms like the upcoming Firefox OS can offer the same breadth of apps as iOS and Android, they’re going to struggle to be even a “strong” third place in the world of smartphones. Beefing up the processor, memory and camera aren’t going to attract nearly as many users as beefing up the app selection.

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