App stores galore: Carriers try the Apple approach

In case you didn’t see, Sprint and Samsung are holding a $25,000 contest for Instinct app developers, essentially following Apple’s lead in creating a user-generated app store to help improve the popularity of their already popular device.

But just like real-world shopping malls, not all application outlets—whether online or on the phone itself—are created equal. “There’s still a gap in terms of capabilities,” says NPD analyst Ross Rubin. Some phones still offer a limited number of games and calendaring options. Few applications are adapted specifically for phones that feature touchscreen controls.

Then there’s the matter of the economic incentive to develop for the iPhone. Venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers plans to invest more than $100 million in startups that build iPhone and iPod Touch applications and gear. “The iPhone is still going to be the best platform for a significant amount of time for developers to launch new applications,” says Kleiner Perkins partner Matt Murphy.

Almost every manufacturer, from HTC to the folks working on Android phones, are following along. The only trick: convincing developers to move from iPhone programming to working on apps for other, untested platforms. Only time will tell.