I had (what felt like) a bit of an epiphany this morning regarding this. Thought I'd get it down while it was still running hot.
In recent years we've seen the emergence of various new application platforms – in particular I was thinking about the Facebook Developer Platform and the iPhone AppStore from Apple. In both of these cases we've seen small, new or unknown companies able to get in and make significant returns with relatively simple applications.
One of the reasons behind this is that you tend to have an existing large audience (Facebook users, iPhone owners) in an environment where there is a lot less competing noise (as compared to competing on the open Internet / against the range of desktop applications) and a conversely large amount of press coverage tends to accompany the launch of of the new platform.
Over time this advantage erodes as the press coverage and success stories encourage more developers onto the platform, the competing noise goes up, the press coverage decreases and the general quality of the applications goes down, leading to some disengagement from the users.
However, there is usually a decent window where you can make good money and gain traction if you are in early.
Plenty of people made a lot of money during the first 12 months of the Facebook platform (and still do, it's just a lot harder now), and there a decent sales figures starting to come from independent application developers for the iPhone right now.
What also tends to happen is that the top end of the market consolidates fairly quickly as bigger players try to dominate – this can present an exit opportunity to sell your applications to well funded companies looking to increase their market share.
Where am I going with this?
Microsoft's Live Mesh has been around for a while now in its guise as a file synchronisation application. While it does this and does it well this is only a fraction of the real intention, Microsoft have insisted from the start that Mesh is a platform play. As such we're now beginning to see some hints about how Live Mesh will also function as an application platform:
Allowing users to run (Silverlight based!) Live Mesh application both on their desktop in their own chromeless browser window and on their “Live Desktop” hosted in the cloud from any Silverlight supported browser. In terms of allowing applications to run outside the browser, have start menu items and shortcuts this takes Mesh into some competition with Adobe's cross platform desktop runtime Air. As far as running applications inside a virtual desktop online, the closest thing I can think of is gh.o.st (http://g.ho.st/).
I'm linking this up with the recent news that Microsoft are going to launch a service similar to the AppStore called Skymarket:
Which is aimed at selling existing Windows Mobile applications to mobile users in the same way as the AppStore.
If we see a similar move, either within this Skymarket initiative or as a separate site, for selling Mesh applications then I think there is an excellent opportunity to do the following:
1. Mesh enabled existing Silverlight application, using Live Mesh for storage, permissions etc depending on the nature of the application involved.
2. Look at the top selling IPhone applications and identify trends in which type of applications sell well. Develop a small suite of these type of applications in Silverlight for the Mesh.
On the other hand
If we don't see a similar move from Microsoft then there may be an opportunity in developing a Mesh application marketplace which from a consumer side provides applications for installation, a degree of quality assurance, ratings system, user reviews and general support. From the developer side provide billing, analytics and application management. Offer an attractive revenue split (maybe a touch less than Apples hefty 30%) and there's your revenue stream.