Opera’s App Superstore Leaves a Few Aisles Bare

Opera Software has opened the Opera Mobile Store — a device-agnostic app store that offers a catalog of applications for phones based on the Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and soon-to-be-defunct Windows Mobile operating systems.

Also available are Java-based apps for feature phones as well as some older Palm apps, by virtue of the fact that an earlier version of Opera Mobile supported them, spokesperson Thomas Ford told the E-Commerce Times.

All together, more than 140,000 mobile applications, including both free and paid, will be available to users once the store is fully functional.

The Opera Mobile Store cannot host iOS apps “because it is a closed ecosystem,” Mahi de Silva, Opera’s EVP of consumer mobile, told the E-Commerce Times. However, Opera will soon add a feature that will let users search for iOS apps, and once they find one they’re interested in, it will direct them to Apple’s iTunes App Store.

It is unlikely the company will offer a connection to Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 store anytime soon, Ford said — at least not until it develops a browser for that platform.

For the same reason, webOS apps are not available, he added.

Selling to the World

Opera partnered with Appia, a provider of open application marketplace technology, to build the store, which targets a global audience.

Customization options are based on local language and currency, as well as the phone’s operating system.

The store is accessible via all mobile browsers, but users of Opera Mini or Opera Mobile can reach it via a speed-dial link.

Opera has also launched the Opera Publisher Portal for developers.

An Idea With Legs

Despite the plethora of app stores available — starting with Apple’s iconic App Store — this is an idea that has staying power, predicted Frost & Sullivan Senior Consultant James Brehm.

The key to its sustainability in the long term will be the number of apps the store provides, he added.

That said, Opera has some wiggle room. “Right now, it is the most widely distributed [mobile] browser in the world, so by sheer breadth, they have staying power,” noted Brehm.

Opera intends to take advantage of that reach. “Our goal is to reach most of the mobile-using public around the world,” said de Silva.

Device-Agnostic Appeal

Device-agnostic app stores are not a new idea, Brehm pointed out — they were among the first to be introduced.

Now, though, the idea is gaining traction.

“As the mobile app economy grows, more companies will want to participate in this space and sneak into mobile app gardens of popular platforms,” Azita Arvani of the Arvani Group told the E-Commerce Times. “The logic is if consumers are served with a native app store for one platform, why not offer them an app superstore covering multiple platforms?”

Opera wants to cash in on some of that app revenue and has bet on the popularity of its mini browser to attract users to the app store via its Speed Dial link, she continued.

At the same time, the cross-platform model may make it easier for developers to distribute their apps onto a variety of platforms, said Arvani.

Strictly A Developer Play?

In fact, it may be that developers will become the biggest fans of device-agnostic app stores in the long run.

For the majority of consumers, it will likely be more convenient to purchase apps from the native app store for their device OS, suggested Arvani.

Alternative app stores are at the mercy of the mobile platforms, she pointed out, which may change their rules at any time to limit or wipe out their opportunities.

“Apple’s App Store, with its tight terms and conditions, will not allow poaching of its revenue through alternative app stores,” she said. “And GetJar didn’t miss a beat to kick out Opera’s mini browser from its supposedly open ‘app store’ after Opera announced its Opera app store.”

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