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With 500 000 apps in the Apple App Store, 250 000 in the Android Market, and the rest in the tens of thousands, how do you choose from among so many apps? Does size count? Does popularity count? ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK sums up the state of play, and a few of his favourite apps.
Last week the Apple App Store reached the landmark figure of 500 000 apps, double the Android Market’s 250 000 apps. At the same Research In Motion declared that BlackBerry’s App World had reached 25 000 apps. And the Windows Phone Marketplace, it was also announced, holds 18 000 apps. For those who have been clinging onto the 20th century, when you bought something called “software”, an “app” is the same thing, just smaller, cheaper and – its users like to think – cooler. Oh, and it’s also more abbreviated. It’s short for “applications”. Take that, 20th century!

The number of apps is often used as a proxy to keep score of who leads the race for control of the mobile phone and tablet markets. But in truth, is a choice of 500 000 apps better than 250 000? Or even 18 000? Yes, if it means that any app you can imagine is available for your phone. No, if any app you want or need is available among the smallest of the app stores.
That said, numerous apps that compete across Apple and Android devices are not yet available for the BlackBerry, which suggests that size does count.

If an app is free, so much the better, but the paid-for apps tend to be better, since someone has an incentive to work harder on it. In the App Store, the average price is $3.64 for an app, so it won’t break the bank. But 37% of the apps are free, so you don’t need a bank either.

The irony of the app universe (and no, that one’s not taken yet, so feel free to capitalise it and challenge the rest with your App Universe) is that many users tend to download only the 10 or 20 most popular apps. They choose from a list based on which apps have been downloaded by most other users, or those with the highest ratings from these users. This has created a massive industry based simply on pushing up the rankings and downloads of apps in order to get more visibility. This, in turn, feeds popularity and sales in a self-feeding cycle.

In other words, you can’t trust any app store/market/marketplace/world to tell you which the best apps might be. Even referrals from your friends will be tainted by this artificial boosting. The key, in truth, is to find the apps that are meaningful to you, rather than to the billion people who have downloaded apps before you.

So, without wanting to sway you in any way, these are the five apps I’ve found most useful across all markets/worlds/etc. All are free.

Accuweather: Looks great on iPhones, integrates beautifully with BlackBerry, gives me the weather, wherever I am in the world.

Shazam: Listens to music, whether on radio or your own humming, identifies the song, and lets you buy it over the air.
Gmail: the most reliable app for both synchronising and standardising your mail across all devices, whether desktop, tablet or phone.

WhatsApp: an instant messaging app that crosses the live-chat divide between BlackBerry on the one hand and iPhone and Android on the other. You’ll hear much more about this one as it takes on BBM and MXit in the South African market.
BBC News: While other news organisations wrestle with business models and interface issues, these old-timers quietly get on with the job. The iPhone version even has live radio built in. It never fails to amaze me.

* Arthur Goldstuck heads up the World Wide Worx market research organisation and is editor-in-chief of Gadget. You can follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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