Corporate 'App Stores' Gain Converts

Once upon a time, app stores were places where smartphone users went to get apps for tracking rush hour traffic, playing the occasional game, or finding animated guitar charts that would play when you strummed the screen.

Over the last four and a half years or so, however, smartphones have evolved into an invaluable business communications asset -- one that IT has some responsibility for -- thus raising the importance of app stores to businesses, according to a new report out this week.

However, despite the explosive popularity of Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone -- witness the excitement Tuesday when Apple rolled out the iPhone 4S, a relatively minor update -- virtually all smartphone providers also have app stores now.

Not far behind the consumer marketplace, app stores have also begun sprouting up inside many IT organizations or even the businesses themselves.

In fact, a new report by analyst firm Canalys predicts that "enterprise app stores will redefine channel IT business over the next three years" -- more so than even the cloud, the firm projects.

"Cloud is important, but is having a more limited impact than partners realize right now," Canalys Chief Analyst Adam Daum, said in a statement.

"We're moving to a smartphone world in more ways than one ... Thanks to consumer app stores, the average employee is as familiar with downloading their own software picks as checking their email. They now want that self-service and ease-of-use available in the workplace," Daum added.

In order to stay competitive, those pressures are not only driving IT vendors to create their own app stores, but also spurring businesses themselves to build their own internal app stores to serve their users' needs, the report says.

To some extent, the trend mirrors what happened in the workplace when the business PC was introduced in the early 1980s -- just as then, as more and more workers bring their mobile devices to work, IT is forced to deal with challenges including network integration and security.

"Internal app stores enable enterprises to efficiently manage the growing number of mobile form factors and OS platforms, while bolstering employee satisfaction," the report said.

Although much of the smartphone apps push is about decentralization, though, at least some businesses do not view the evolution as threatening.

"Easily navigable app stores effectively enable IT to maintain control over security and governance, while reducing IT department headcount," the report added.

Additionally, the app model lets IT lower budgets and cut development complexity through simpler programming and delivery models.

Neither does that mean that cloud computing has no bearing on mobile apps and app stores.

"Led by consumer cloud growth, software-as-a-service dominates IT marketing agendas ... in the enterprise setting, the proliferation of mobile devices requires a comprehensive yet easy-to-use software platform, accessible anytime, anywhere," the report said.


Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.


iPhone, iPad, app store