There are only 1.2 million apps in Apple’s App Store. That’s tiny when you consider there are more than 500 million iPhones in the world and 500 million active websites. “That app number is where we were with the web in 1997,” Fritz Lanman, an investor and entrepreneur says.
Lanman is the chairman of a new mobile startup, DWNLD, that wants to start closing that gap. DWNLD is like WordPress for phones; it makes it cheap and easy for any content creator to convert their website or social stream into a personalised app that gets published in the App Store.
The service costs $US15 per month and apps are customisable with easy design tools (layouts, fonts, etc.) for tech novices. There’s also an option to switch iAds on or off so a publisher can start monetizing an app. DWNLD doesn’t sell ads directly for its mobile publishers, though. Once the app is ready to go, DWNLD will submit it to the App Store. Approval typically comes 7 to 10 days later.
DWNLD is led by CEO Alexandra Keating, who was a former Thrillist executive. The startup has been working in stealth mode for the past 18 months with an army of former Googlers, Tumblrs, and Foursquare engineers. It quietly raised $US2 million in seed capital from WME, Michael Arrington’s CrunchFund, The Chernin Group, Gordon Crawford, and other media executives.
The idea for DWNLD begins with Lanman’s wife, Melissa. She runs a fashion blog, JNSQ, and asked her husband to build her a mobile app. Lanman, a former Microsoft executive turned Pinterest and Square investor, ended up custom-building one for her. He showed the product to WME’s Ari Emanuel, who encouraged him to mass produce apps for his celebrity clients and brands. Reality TV star Kristin Cavallari, for example, is one of DWNLD’s clients.
If DWNLD becomes successful, every contact in your phone could also have his or her own “John Smith” app in the App Store.
Right now, DWNLD only lets customers build iOS apps, but it’s working on an Android solution.
The idea to mass-produce apps isn’t new. OnSwipe, a startup that was recently acquired, is an ad network that helps large publishers create mobile versions of their content. Similar products AppMakr and Buildfire already exist.
But if DWNLD or another startup can drastically increase the number of apps published by reducing cost and technical friction for app-makers, the mobile landscape could change a lot.
Lanman feels the current app landscape resembles the early Yahoo days, back when it was just Jerry Yang’s directory with a few web links. No one thought people would use more than 400 websites — until better search engines came along and surfaced more great sources of content.
If millions and millions of apps become published, there will need to be a better search engine for discovering apps and a new way to bookmark favourite apps, because they won’t all fit on your mobile home screen.
When you think of the 1.2 million-apps-to-500-million-websites ratio — and all that needs to be done to close that gap — then maybe Lanman has a point: We are still stuck in the mobile 1.0 days after all.
Here’s what DWNLD looks like: