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Thanks to the iPhone, 'app fever' is spreading

July 23, 2009 |  4:01 pm
Iphone
Apple's iPhone, an app trendsetter. Credit: Associated Press

A sickness that first infected the elitist tech sector is exploding into the mainstream. Cellphones have certainly contributed largely to disseminating the illness, but it seems that just about every technology is catching the bug.

App fever is spreading.

We can trace the origins back to an Apple orchard in Cupertino, Calif. The iPhone's wildly popular App Store distributed more than a billion applications -- software built by third-party developers that can do myriad things including accessing Facebook and playing radio stations, but we're sure you already knew that -- in its first year.

Thanks to the popularity of the Apple Inc. phone and its software marketplace, everyone wants a piece of the apption -- sorry, action.

As I put our review unit of the T-Mobile MyTouch cellphone, which runs Google's Android mobile operating system, through its paces (review coming later), the interface places its "thousands of downloadable applications" at the forefront.

Meanwhile, a co-worker nearby scours his BlackBerry to try to find Research in Motion Ltd.'s App World store. Another proudly flicks through pages of apps on his iPhone.

Verizon Communications Inc. has been selling software through its phones for four to five years via its Get It Now service, said Ed Ruth, a business development representative for Verizon Wireless who works with developers. But that digital store doesn't have the word "app" in its name.

So, the company is preparing to launch a Verizon App Store, which is geared toward the growing smart phone market. The mobile marketplace will unlock ...

... certain network-exclusive features to developers. The software will sit alongside whatever other app options a phone might have, Ruth said.

Last night, I saw a Verizon commercial advertising the "app-friendly EnV," a touch-screen phone. It appears to be part of a Verizon guerrilla ad campaign to keep customers appcited -- sorry, excited -- about its non-Apple-branded phones.

And whether intentional or not, it's tricking at least one person into thinking it will actually run iPhone apps. Sorry, dude, you're stuck with junk like the $9 Celebrity Digest.

But Verizon's ads aren't nearly as ruthless as Sprint Nextel Corp.'s. The company's commercials say Sprint subscribers are saving enough money on Internet-enabled, app-happy cellphones compared with AT&T's iPhone customers that they could build a Dunkin' Donuts in space.

Just look at the websites for the three major U.S. telecoms that aren't called AT&T. Each of them repeatedly make references to apps. AT&T doesn't say the word anywhere on its page -- the picture of the iPhone should suffice.

Everyone wants a piece of the Apple pie.

There were 5,400 mentions of the word "app" in news articles in just the last month, according to a Google News search.

Geek celebrities gush about their favorite apps in this blog post. This post talks about how one app could "save public radio." And this BBC News story predicts that apps will be "as big as the Internet." (Though, Google says otherwise, despite catering to apps on Android.)

It's not just telecoms that are blathering about apps.

Earlier this week, I received a news release from Panjiva, an online resource for information on international business. The company is promoting its "app store," which allows third-party developers to feed their data into the service. I note that Panjiva's use of the word "app store" makes no sense.

"It's a loose analogy," spokesman Cody Barbierri said. "Well, it got you interested enough to talk to us, didn't it?"

Welcome to the tech world's newest buzz word. Are you sick of it yet?

-- Mark Milian

Follow my random thoughts on technology, the Internet and Web start-ups on Twitter @mmilian.

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