Google tries to close mobile apps gap with Apple

Search giant recruiting developers, UI experts in bid to create more mobile applications

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The already heated mobile apps war is about to get more intense.

Online search giant Google is in the process of assembling an in-house braintrust to crank out applications for the exploding mobile device market.

(Also see: Teen's iPhone app gives Angry Birds something to be angry about)

According to the Wall Street Journal, Google "plans to hire dozens of software developers to create applications for smartphones and other mobile devices, people familiar with the matter said."

In addition to hiring developers, Google is targeting product managers and user-interface experts. The WSJ reports that some of Google's employees have been reassigned to the new mobile-apps initiative.

Two things are driving Google's strategy -- opportunity and necessity. Three years ago, the mobile apps market barely existed, generating a mere $270 million in revenue from paid apps and free apps that included paid advertising, according to Gartner. The research firm expects mobile-apps revenue to top $15 billion this year and $25 billion in 2012.

That's the opportunity. The necessity stems from the "apps gap" separating Google and Apple, which created its Apps Store to capitalize on the popularity of its iPhone and other devices. While people with mobile devices powered by Google's Android OS can choose from more than 100,000 paid and free apps -- the vast majority of which were created by third-party developers -- to download from Android Market, Apple's App Store features more than 350,000 applications.

Earlier this month the number of apps downloaded from Apple's store passed the 10 billion mark. In contrast, mobile device users have downloaded just more than 1 billion apps from Android Market as of December.

Obviously the premise is that a greater variety of applications makes a mobile platform more attractive to users. True up to a point. The real key, though, is usefulness -- everything can't be Angry Birds and other entertaining time-wasters. So it will be interesting to see if Google's in-house team focuses any of its efforts on mobile apps for the enterprise, where the popularity of the iPhone and, more recently, the iPad tablet, are making Apple an emerging player after years of the company ignoring this market in favor of consumers.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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