BY THE NUMBERS
$10 billion — Amount earned by developers through the App Store (as of this month).
100 — Average number of apps downloaded per App Store customer.
355 — Number of apps downloaded by staff writer Casey Phillips.
575 million — Number of App Store user accounts.
$999.99 — Cost of BarMax Ca, a California bar exam prep guide and one of the App Store's most expensive titles.
800 — Number of apps downloaded from the App Store every second.
155 — Countries in which the App Store is available.
In a game of “Say the Same Thing,” a recently released smartphone app, two players attempt to suggest the same word connecting two otherwise random subjects.
Despite a quirky, storybook art style, a novel concept and mostly positive user reviews, there's little that sets it apart in the sprawling catalog of titles on Apple's App Store. But on May 16, the free game was placed beneath an enormous spotlight when Ohio college student Brandon Ashmore, 21, made it the store’s 50 billionth download.
Since Apple opened the App Store on July 10, 2008, use of the service has grown exponentially, doubling — at a minimum — every year. Apple celebrated passing the 25 billionth app milestone just 14 months ago in March 2012.
To avid iPhone and iPad users, the success of Apple's service comes as little surprise, given how useful apps have proven themselves during the last five years.
“[Apps have] helped me to communicate better … to spread information faster … to discover new things … to remember bits and pieces of information,” says Jon F. Moss, a local social media strategist and owner of Moss Media Labs. “Apps are what keep us coming back to a smart device, whether a phone or tablet. They refresh your interest in the device.”
A MOMENTOUS REVERSAL
Downloading an app, an act many users now take for granted, was not always built into the smartphone experience.
When the iPhone released in June 2007, it quickly set a new standard for mobile devices, selling 1 million units in less than three months. Despite an innovative interface and the introduction of features now near-universal on smartphones, such as touchscreens and multimedia playback, the original iPhone was limited to applications only developed by Apple.
The Times Free Press asked its readers to sound off on the most indispensable apps on their iPhones. Here's what they said:
“I couldn't live without 'AudioNote' at work, and I'm just falling in love with 'OmniFocus.' ... [I use] 'Pinterest,' 'Houzz' and 'Candy Crush [Saga]' for fun. I download an average of five a month. I keep some and delete some.” — Lisa Trewhitt Earby
“My dad has spent almost $160 on 'Candy Crush Saga.' He definitely can't live without that app.” — Jamie Tyler
“'Drudge Report.' I go months without adding any new apps. They have to be legitimately helpful for me to download them.” — Bruce Davidson
“I've spent $200 on 'Spartan Wars.'” — Joshua Lang
“[I download] at least 10 a month, and I can't live without my Facebook and Twitter apps.” — Tia Seitz
“Apps for kids are impossible to live without for the moments when your kid needs entertainment in office waiting rooms. I change mine up about once a month with free ones.” — Jessica Elizabeth Hawks
“None. My phone is strictly a phone; don't need it for anything else.” — Therese Burke Bowman
• July 10 — The App Store launches in 62 countries with 500 apps.
• July 14 — 10 million apps downloaded.
• Sept. 9 — 100 million apps downloaded.
• Dec. 31 — Facebook the most successful first-year app with about 5 million downloads.
• Jan. 16 — 500 million apps downloaded; 15,000 titles available.
• April 4 — 1 billion apps downloaded.
• June 8 — 50,000 titles available; 3,000 downloaded every minute.
• Sept. 28 — 2 billion apps downloaded; 85,000 titles available.
• Dec. 31 — Facebook and “Paper Toss” the year's most-downloaded apps.
• April 3 — iPad becomes available
• June 7 — 5 billion apps downloaded; 225,000 titles available.
• Dec. 31 — “Angry Birds” the year's most-downloaded apps.
• Jan. 22 — 10 billion apps downloaded.
• Oct. 4 — 18 billion apps downloaded; 500,000 titles available; 1 billion apps downloaded every month.
• Oct. 10 — Facebook is the first app to hit 100 million downloads.
• Dec. 31 — “Angry Birds” and “Fruit Ninja” the year's most-downloaded apps.
• Jan. 24 — 25 billion apps downloaded.
• December — 2 billion app downloads in a single month.
• Dec. 31 — “Temple Run” and “Draw Something” the year's most-downloaded apps.
• May 16 — 50 billion apps downloaded; 850,000 titles available.
• July 10 — App Store turns five.
To developers, the momentum of change initiated by the iPhone's launch didn't pick up full steam until Oct. 17, 2007, when then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs published an open letter, announcing that a software development kit for the iPhone would be released in February 2008.
“We are excited about creating a vibrant third party developer community around the iPhone and enabling hundreds of new applications for our users,” Jobs wrote.
The announcement was an about-face from Jobs' previous position. According to author Walter Isaacson's authorized biography, “Steve Jobs,” the tech mogul initially was reluctant to open up software development for the iPhone.
"Jobs initially resisted allowing them," writes Isaacson. "He didn't want outsiders to create applications for the iPhone that could mess it up, infect it with viruses, or pollute its integrity."
Jobs' announcement and the subsequent launch of the SDK was enthusiastically received by developers.
“I knew it was going to be big. It was obvious.There was a huge clamor for open development,” recalls Steven Disbrow, the owner of local computer consulting firm Egosystems, Inc., and the developer of several iPhone titles, including contact management apps “Zoom Contact 3” and “Zoom Share.”
When it launched the following July, the App Store had a comparatively paltry 500 apps, but enthusiastic public response helped it to grow by leaps and bounds. According to Apple statistics, the App Store's 1 billionth app was downloaded in less than a year. The second billionth followed less than six months later, by which point the library of available apps had swollen to more than 85,000 titles.
Apps now have become central to daily life, Disbrow says, which speaks to the appeal of a marketplace that can release inexpensive software that serves niche audiences and is available anywhere.
“Apps are cheap and they do useful stuff. Everybody likes that,” Disbrow explains while waiting for a wrecker to service a flat tire on his car. The driver, he adds, found his way to his home by using turn-by-turn service on his smartphone.
“Apps are ubiquitous; they're everywhere,” Disbrow adds. “It's not like you have to go to a specific store or drive to a specific place, you just fire up your phone and you've got the store there right in front of you.”
The emergence of the App Store and third-party iPhone development saw an exponential increase in the store's offerings, which Apple representatives say is fast closing in on another milestone of 1 million available apps. The success of the iPhone and its marketplace also saw the emergence of other services such as Research In Motion's BlackBerry World and Android devices' Google Play, which some tech outlets earlier this year predicted would beat the App Store to the 1 million title punch.
AN APP FOR EVERYTHING
The wealth of titles has created a library with seemingly an app for ever possible need or situation, from stargazing to music to a photo cookbook for making sushi.
When the iPhone came out, Moss was a diehard fan of BlackBerry devices, but when the App Store opened, he says he decided to convert.
“The desire to want to use all these apps that were coming out on the App Store caused me to say, 'Good bye, BlackBerry. I need to have an iPhone.' I never looked back” says Moss, who upgraded to the iPhone 5 last year.
For developers, the wide openness of the App Store is a double-edged sword. Although they can develop app and present them to a massive potential audience, standing out is next to impossible without prominent placement on the App Store home screen, a coveted position limited to only apps selected internally by Apple.
It's a problem that has been endemic to the App Store and similar markets since their inception.
“I don't want to say that it's dumb luck at this point, but there's a huge amount of luck involved in it,” says Disbrow, whose apps generally break even but have failed thus far to generate much income.
“It's not easy; it's like miracles,” he continues. “You don't hear about the guys who mortgage their house and then have to move back in with their parents because their idea for a fart generator just didn't sell quite as well as they hoped.”
SUCCESSES AND FAILURES
The App Store has yielded plenty of failures and flash-in-the-pan successes, but it also has been a breeding ground for massively successful titles, including photo/social media app Instagram and music-discovery app “Shazam.” The store also has offered a new multimedia platform that magazines and newspapers have jumped on, as well as helping to diversify services such as Facebook, Pandora Radio, Twitter, Evernote and Netflix, all of which have popular smart phone and tablet apps.
TOP PAID iPHONE APPS
Note: As of May 2, 2013
“Cut the Rope”
“Angry Birds Seasons”
“Words with Friends”
“Angry Birds Space”
TOP FREE iPHONE APPS
“Words With Friends Free”
“The Weather Channel”
TOP PAID iPAD APPS
“Angry Birds HD”
“Angry Birds Seasons HD”
“Where’s My Water”
“Fruit Ninja HD”
“Angry Birds Space HD”
“Words With Friends HD”
“Cut the Rope HD”
TOP FREE iPAD APPS
“Skype for iPad”
“The Weather Channel for iPad”
“Angry Birds HD Free”
“Calculator for iPad Free”
“Fruit Ninja HD Free”
“Words With Friends HD Free”
After the App Store's launch, however, an explosion of entertainment development quickly established gaming as the store's most populous category, with more than 150,000 titles available — about one-sixth of the store's catalog — according to metrics from iOS community news site 148Apps.biz.
One of the store's earliest success stories was “Super Monkey Ball,” which had 300,000 downloads in its first month, generating $3 million for developer Sega. Other success stories include titles such as “Doodle Jump,” “Real Racing,” “Cut the Rope,” “Infinity Blade,” “Fruit Ninja” and “Temple Run.”
The physics-based puzzler “Angry Birds” debuted on the App Store in late 2009 and has since grown into a massively successful franchise, spawning a slew of sequels and spinoffs, books and even an animated series, “Angry Birds Toons.” To date, the game and its sequels reportedly have been downloaded 1.9 billion times.
According to Apple statistics, games have consistently been the App Store's most successful titles. Games make up 70 and 80 percent of the top 10 paid iPhone and iPad applications, respectively.
Since 2008, games have consistently been featured at the Apple Design Awards, an awards ceremony at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference, which recognizes the best and most innovative software on Apple platforms. In 2010, Apple hired a dedicated staff member to serve as the App Store Game Editorial Chief, a position that decides which gaming apps are highlighted on the store every week.
NO GOING BACK
Apps have thoroughly ingrained themselves in many aspects of 21st century, and Apple estimates that the development boom for the App Store has resulted in more than 290,000 jobs and spawned a community of 275,000 registered developers.
Smartphone users say its difficult enough to remember a world before apps and even more difficult to conceive of modern life without them.
“It's obviously a huge industry. It's a big deal,” Moss says.
Disbrow say that, despite only seeing moderate success for his apps, he will continues to develop smart phone apps in his spare time in the hopes of landing his own “Angry Birds”-like success or, like “Say the Same Thing,” getting a moment in the spotlight.
The App Store, he says, has become both a de facto entrepreneurial proving ground and a digital gold rush, all wrapped into one.
“It's definitely more often a miss than a hit, [but] the reason you keep developing is that … there is that brass ring out there that you don't have to work another day in your life if you get something that work.”
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...