App Growth, PalmOS vs iPhoneOS

There’s a chart I’ve been meaning to put together for a while to explain why I’m expecting the iPhoneOS to be the dominant mobile platform for at least the next decade. I’ve been thinking of the role third-party applications played in helping Palm maintain its mobile platform dominance for about that same period, from 1996 to 2006. If you believe Palm apps were a primary cause of Palm’s long-term success against Microsoft and other competitors — apps which were far more awkward to install than iPhone apps, which had a far narrower range of interface or capabilities, and which for a long time didn’t even have a network connection to use, and yet which still spawned the term “Palm Economy” to describe the developers making money off their sales — then what has happened on the App Store over the past year should make the case for the iPhoneOS’s dominance. Here, looky:

App Growth

Over a ten-year period, the PalmOS grew to support about 29,000 apps. The App Store passed that mark about 10 months after launching, and by now has probably doubled it. Developers, developers, developers!

This NY Times article about Palm having trouble winning developers over to its new WebOS platform for the Pre seemed wistful to me considering the lead PalmOS had acquired and has now lost. I don’t think that the Pre’s design or keyboard — nor, for that matter, the openness of Android, which I’d personally far prefer (here’s why) — can effectively compete with a platform that has so many developers excited about it, as iPhoneOS does. An ecosystem creates dominance, and Apple has succeeded at that in an incredibly impressive way.

I’ll be interested to see if the new hardware interfaces in iPhoneOS 3.0 help Apple to build a hardware ecosystem, too. If so I may double the length of my bet.

Sources for the numbers in the chart:

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