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With the U.S. Army on the front lines, more specialized app stores are inevitable

by Kevin Maney

It’s only a matter of time before we see a Home Depot (HD) app store aimed at fix-it types, or a Martha Stewart app store for consumers who want to live beautifully.

A next phase of selling apps is beginning to unfold: specialized app stores. These will differ from the Android Market or Amazon’s Appstore the way a J. Crew (JH2.F) store or Guitar Center differs from a Wal-Mart (WMT) or Best Buy (BBY). The niche stores will offer curated apps for a specific audience.

Two of the first specialized app stores are gearing up for launch.

An app store to help you be all that you can be

The U.S. Army got a lot of attention when it recently announced plans to launch Army Marketplace, an app store that offers apps relevant to soldiers. The Army is smartphone crazy, and has set up a new Mobile Applications Branch. A specialized store can help in a number of ways. Users will need a U.S. military password to get in, keeping the apps out of the hands of the general public or hostile forces. And soldiers know the apps in the store are approved for use.

Beyond that, the Army hopes its store can become a hub of give-and-take between soldiers and developers. “It’s actually a place where apps can become officially certified and also where ideas can be generated, purchased, and contracted out,” said Lt. Col. Gregory Motes, who is charge of the Army’s Mobile Applications Branch, during an interview with Fox News. Soldiers can go on the store’s site and suggest ideas for apps, which developers could then create.

On a different end of the app spectrum, a startup called BloomWorlds plans to sell “family” apps aimed at parents and their kids. The site is expected to launch in June. One of the founders, Todd Levy, says BloomWorlds will feature “hands-on curation” of apps. Users will first download a BloomWorlds app that will open the store on their phones.

“We’re not going to have hundreds of thousands of apps like other app stores,” Levy says. “We’re going to have hundreds of the highest quality, most innovative apps for the entire family.”

Less is more for the niche app store

Emerging trends point to the development of niche app stores. For starters, broad-based app stores are becoming increasingly difficult to navigate and search. By July, both Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone and Google’s (GOOG) Android platform will each offer more than 400,000 apps, and those burgeoning apps are all jammed together into broad categories. This can be frustrating for users. For instance, a stop in the “Travel & Local” aisle of Android Market gives you TripAdvisor next to a Japanese-character offering next to a guide to public transportation in the Czech Republic.

At the same time, so many people are now using smartphones that niche markets -- including soldiers, skiers, car enthusiasts, fashionistas -- are getting big enough to support their own stores. Just as physical retailers long ago evolved from general stores to specialized stores, app stores will do the same. “We think there’s a lot of room for innovation in the app store space,” says BloomWorlds’ Levy.

Which means that something like a Home Depot app store – or some version of a home repair app store -- is inevitable. People who are getting ready to take on a home project might not want to sift the broad app stores for apps that could help. They might prefer browsing through a niche store that features curated, high-quality, useful apps.

The same could be true for people who like to put on dinner parties and decorate – and might appreciate a Martha Stewart app store. It’s easy to imagine app stores aimed at various slices of life. An ESPN app store might collect all the best apps for following and playing sports. A New York Magazine store might make itself the place to go to find all apps related to the city, from subway maps to neighborhood news.

Of course, if niche app stores proliferate, we’ll need a way to organize them. The app mall, anyone?