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By Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY
Phanfare co-founder and CEO Andrew Erlichson has seen his future, and it's on the iPhone.
The Internet photo-sharing service recently informed 300,000 registered users of the new strategy, which ties in its website with a new Phanfare Photon application for Apple's (AAPL) iPhone and iPod Touch.
"The iPhone represents the beginning of what we believe will be a convergence between smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras," Erlichson told customers in an e-mail that also encouraged them to buy an iPhone.
Savvy software developers such as Erlichson are trying to stake a claim for early prominence in the mobile economy, where it's still a bit easier to get noticed than on the Web. The size of the market (about 1 billion phones sold annually) and the cool factor of the iPhone, makes it a desirable place to make a splash.
"The iPhone has the largest install base with the highest level of functionality," says Steven Echtman, CEO of HearPlanet, a free travel audio tour service that launched in early January. Other platforms have larger numbers of subscribers, such as Windows Mobile and BlackBerry, but users aren't as likely to add lots of new applications, he says, because Apple makes it easier via its App Store.
HearPlanet has been downloaded more than 50,000 times.
Where the action is
The iPhone is "the platform of the moment," says Mike McGuire, an analyst at Gartner. "Apple has sucked all the oxygen out of the room, and developers want to be where the action is."
Google's Android was envisioned as a similar platform with thousands of potential applications, but it hasn't yet caught on, says McGuire, and Palm is looking for a comeback with its new Pre phone and operating system in late spring. "For now, it's the iPhone," he says.
Apple's App Store has about 15,000 applications available up from just over 500 when it launched in July. Apps are available for a fee, or free. Downloads have surpassed 500 million.
The best-selling applications have been games. Also in the mix are utilities (dictionaries, restaurant guides) and time-wasters (games that simulate the sounds of bodily functions or drinking beer).
While most are from up-and-coming entrepreneurs, many established players are there as well, including MySpace, Facebook, eBay and USA TODAY.
The online radio service Pandora is iPhone's most popular music application. About 40% of new Pandora subscribers come from the iPhone daily, and they are listening to as much as 100 minutes of music at a pop, says Pandora founder Tim Westergren.
In just six months, Pandora has picked up 3 million new listeners from the iPhone. "This whole thing has been a huge shock to us," he says. "Much bigger than we expected."
Pandora owes much of its success to being on the App Store from day one.
"It's getting really crowded out there," Westergren says. The challenge for newcomers is "how to get attention and light up grass-roots interest so you can show up on the charts."
Most iPhone owners find new applications by scrolling lists at the App Store, where Apple publishes rankings of top sellers in various categories.
"People fight really hard to make the list," says British developer Mark Terry, whose Band music application has been at the top of the charts since its July debut. "If you're No. 102, you don't exist."
When the App Store launched, many applications sold for $4.99 to $9.99.
But in an effort to make the charts, developers began cutting prices, Terry says: "Anything to get ahead. One hundred apps are released daily. That's like 100 albums by no-name bands."
Terry's $3.99 Band program down from $9.99 originally lets you play virtual piano, guitar, drum and bass on the iPhone.
i.TV, based in Palo Alto, Calif., made the chart easily when it launched its free app in late October. The "what's on" guide to TV, movies, your Netflix queue and more has been downloaded 2 million times. It made Apple's top five chart "because there was nothing like it," CEO Brad Pelo says.
"You have to deliver an app that gets buzz in the blogosphere," he says. "This is what my phone does that yours doesn't. This is why you need my app."
Pelo sees the iPhone as the new living room remote control, an essential device to be in your lap as you watch TV, answer e-mail and try to decide what to watch or where to go.
To Erlichson, mix his Phanfare with the Photon application and the iPhone becomes a "connected camera."
Sure, it's a way to entice folks to spend $54.95 a year for Phanfare's Web-based service, but he believes more folks will enjoy the ability to access their photo collection from anywhere.
"It's the beginning of a new era, where computers give way to more purposeful devices that are easier to use," he says. "This is clearly a seminal event. Apple has raised the bar, and everybody is racing to catch up."
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