Android Market climbs to 20K: The apps that make the platform

Because Apple forcefully pushes the quantity of apps in the iTunes App Store as a mark of superiority, other mobile application stores are tallied whether or not they want to be.

Unofficial Android Market Web portal AndroLib recently announced that Google's Android Market has hit the 20,000 app milestone, putting it a distant second behind Apple's App Store, but growing fast.

It's a strong total after one year, but the number of apps available is not the main factor at play for the competing mobile platforms.

What matters more is the ability for those apps to simplify the user's routine, integrate into his repertoire of behaviors, and complete their assigned tasks. Yes, it's a robotic-sounding assessment of the purpose of apps, but that's how we use them.

To a large degree, this means a mobile platform needs to have apps that tie well into the most popular Web-based services. If you pore over the thousands of selfsame "top ten app" lists out there and compare them with the lists of the most downloaded apps, you'll find that across the mobile platforms: iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, webOS, BlackBerry, and Symbian; the most popular apps correspond directly with the most popular Web services.

This means apps for Twitter, Facebook, Google, Bing, YouTube, Wikipedia, Amazon, eBay, Flickr, Windows Live, AOL, or pretty much any of the 500 most popular Web sites are easy locks for top ten lists for any mobile device. Likewise, multi-sync apps like FeedR and Pixelpipe (which integrates with no fewer than 115 Web services) are guaranteed must-haves irrespective of the platform.

The real differentiators are the platform-exclusive apps and their related services, unique exploiters of the platform's strengths, device-specific apps, and finally, simple bright ideas.

That said, it should be no surprise that Android's strongest apps are those which integrate with Google's properties, or that came from Google's labs. I'd like to think this is why the world went temporarily berserk over the Nexus One. For a moment, people thought there would be a Google device with end-to-end integration with these services already proven outstanding on Android:

  • Goggles - Visual search app.
  • My Tracks - GPS trip monitor for jogging/biking/hiking.
  • Finance - Tracks stocks and financial news.
  • Sky Map - Augmented reality for stars.
  • Voice - The controversial unified phone line.
  • My Maps Editor - for creating shareable photo-enhanced directions in Maps.
  • Listen - Podcast browser and Podcatcher.

These apps, as well as the integration with Google search, Sync, Gmail, Latitude, and other services, have made Android what it is. As for third-party, Android-exclusive apps, there aren't heaps to speak of. However, the notable examples truly shine. Some of those include:

  • OpenHome and aHome- Homescreen replacements
  • BetterCut - Lets the user make more diverse shortcuts.
  • ASTRO File Manager - A versatile app for more powerful file manipulation.
  • DroidLive - An elegant Shoutcast-powered Web radio app.
  • FxCamera - A winner at ADC 2 this year, this puts some cool instant filters on the device's camera.

The rest is really up to the individual user's taste. Android has excellent apps that are available on the other mobile platforms, but I left these out for the reasons mentioned above.

With 20,000 apps and climbing, Android will stay in competition with iPhone, even if that isn't where competition matters.

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