Application Stores, or App Stores, seem to be the latest rave. With Apple introducing the App Store for the iPhone a several years ago, the idea has definitely caught on for the mobile platform. Blackberry and Verizon soon followed suit with their own version of the App Store. Now the idea has progressed from the mobile platform to the PC. Wouldn’t it be cool if you can just login to a website and be able to start running applications as easy and seamlessly as it’s done via iTunes? This idea is soon to be a reality.
Citrix last month launched Dazzle, it’s version of an App Store with virtualization and streaming of applications. I’ve demoed Dazzle and I like the interface, ease, and quickness of applications becoming available. While Dazzle is aimed at the enterprise, I want to take this blog and discuss what is needed to properly build an App Store for the consumer.
An App Store consists of four components: hosting, e-commerce, delivery technology, and content. Each component is equally important because if you are missing one of the four parts you won’t have an App Store. For example, without content you won’t have any applications to sell. The challenge today is getting software vendors to buy into the idea of an App Store and the possibility of having to change their licensing module to a SaaS subscription model.
An App Store is similar to a website in that it will need to be hosted on a server somewhere on the Internet. Depending on how much traffic you anticipate and how many applications will be delivered will determine how many servers will be required to distribute the load. Ideally you will want a distributed system with a server in each region of the United States. I recommend Rackspace as they are great hosting platform. You may also consider leveraging a web caching service so you can do more with less.
2. E-commerce platform
Once you have your hosting setup the next step is to find or build an e-commerce platform. The site must be able to manage users, accounts, billing, and make the applications available once they have been purchased. The site should be able to integrate with the delivery technology you pick. Shopify.com is a pretty cool site but will need an add-on similar to Fetch to make it an app store. For a mock up app store you can checkout http://ondemand.endeavors.com
3. Delivery Technology
The third crucial piece of technology that is needed is a way to deliver the applications via the Internet in a way that there is no download or install process. The application should stream down and become available to use instantly. The delivery technology should be able to manage upgrades seamlessly. In the case of a subscription model, if the user cancels their subscription it should prevent the user from running the application. Also, to make it simple and easy to use similar to the iTunes experience, the application needs to be delivered ready to use with full integration with the host OS. The end user experience of the application should not be changed meaning proper start menu icons, files associations, printing, and integration with other applications/devices. Endeavors Technologies has a product called Application Jukebox – SaaS Edition that fits the bill and was designed for this use. It is designed to be integrated with an e-Commerce site and deliver any type of Windows application over the wide area network.
Finally, the last piece of puzzle is content. Without content you simply just have some cool technology. Whatever the applications may be or the purpose of the App Store, you will need the permission of the software vendors to be able to resale their applications in such a manner. In the future we will see App Stores for nich markets such as Small Business applications or Engineering applications. The owner of the App Store will seek out all the applications in this field and make them available for customers to download. Customers will have a huge variety of applications to pick from. They will see titles they have never heard of and will have the opportunity to quickly evaluate the application without actually installing anything or affecting their system.
The idea of an App Store for delivering Windows based applications is already cooking in Europe and other parts of the world. It will only be a matter of time before it catches on in the United States. Once it does, it will change the way we acquire and think about software. Like iTunes did for music, I see it cutting down on piracy as it makes it easier and more affordable to obtain what you’re looking for rather then trying dodgy pirate sites that may get you a virus.