Is Apple's iPhone App Store growing unwieldy?

Research firm estimates Apple's iPhone App Store will hit 300,000 applications by the end of 2010.

Research firm IDC says Apple's App Store could stock in excess of a quarter million iPhone and iPod Touch applications, tripling current levels by the end of 2010. That's some number. Contrast with an estimated 10,000 Windows 7-compatible apps, over 700 (released as well as announced) Xbox 360 games, nearly 600 PS3 games, over 1,000 Wii games, over 600 DS games (from September 2008), and over 700 PSP games.

Apple just announced their App Store total swung past 100,000 early last month. IDC estimates that's an annual growth rate of 900 percent. I don't doubt for an instant, therefore, the company's ability to top 300,000 iPhone apps by the end of next year. I do, however, seriously doubt my ability to interact with or even be aware of most of them.

Think mathematically. How many of us have time to play--much less finish--more than a few dozen console, PC, or handheld games a year? We rely on game previews and analysis, informal blogs, direct contact with developers and publishers, and message board conversations with like-minded consumers to steer us in an agreeable direction. Our platform(s) of choice help limit our software selection and narrow our "luxury spending" to an amount commensurate with our budgetary--in terms of both time and money--capabilities.

But what if the size of your dinner plate and culinary palette grew 900 percent annually? 300,000's an impressive, majestic, absolutely soaring number, but what does it translate to in time spent prowling Apple's (or, say, your carrier's) digital byways? Viewing individual apps and multi-page descriptions and game or utility screenshots alongside hundreds (on up to thousands) of user reviews per app on a tiny iPhone screen?

Where to turn in times of deluge?

Take a single percentage point. Innocuous enough, but it'd amount to a whopping 3,000 discrete iPhone utilities and games to sample if IDC's forecast proves accurate, a number massively in excess of what the average iPhone user would ever interact with in a given year (you'd have to fool with roughly eight discrete apps a day, every day, for a full year, just to make par).

For the record, I have nothing whatsoever against the iPhone as a gaming platform. My wife has a 3GS, and since I don't currently require a mobile, mine's the latest iPod Touch. I've dallied with a few dozen games to date, mostly the "name" names, like Civilization Revolution, Call of Duty: World at War Zombies, The Sims 3, Madden NFL 10, and Rock Band. The occasional misguided attempt to emulate button-based gamepads is outnumbered by more clever others that work with the iPhone's smooth, button-less interface instead of fighting against it. Other than wishing some of its games went a trifle deeper mechanics-wise, I've no serious complaints.

I am, however, increasingly concerned about my, or anyone else's abilities to keep up with an ever-lengthening freight train of "decent" to "pretty darned great" applications. App growth won't make my personal experience with the iPhone or iPod Touch any poorer, but given recent indicators that a majority of iPhone and iPod users "discover" iPhone apps by browsing through top store rankings, what's that entail for anyone not in the list's top several dozen?

What if the app or game you're ultimately after--rated, say, 4.5 out of 5 stars by hundreds of users--ends up down the rankings list in spot number 136? 547? 1,038? Simply because that's how many 4.5 out of 5 star apps the store--swollen to half a million or more apps--is now holding?

Apple's greatest challenge in a flourishing application market lies in figuring out how to better facilitate ideal consumer-product linking, if it wants to avoid drowning its base in an embarrassment of riches.

Follow me on Twitter @game_on

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Matt Peckham

PC World (US online)
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