The announcement was made, Apple-fashion, on its website on March 3, 2012. Just as a celebrity makes a public gesture to fans who made it possible, a message of gratitude went out to all who did their part to boost the number of app downloads. “A billion thanks. 25 times over,” reads the landing page of the Apple iTunes site.
Just two days ago, the website had a ticker that jumped by 500 tallies a second, marking the cumulative number of units downloaded from the App store, in real time. Can you imagine this in a business that hardly existed five years ago?
Achieving 25 billion app downloads underscores the huge shift away from buying software in a retail store to install at home on a PC, towards consumers accessing applications 24/7 from their smartphones. The change in consumer use patterns marks the onset of the touch screen as an easier, more cherished and more vital way to reach the internet, friends, games and so forth, for fun or work.
A mere four years ago, Apple got the ball rolling in a new direction when it made a toolkit for third-party developers to build apps for its iPhone. The business to business portal and associated material was made available on March 6, 2008.
There were more than 100,000 downloads of the toolkit by the time Apple opened its doors to the public to browse the App store, in July of 2008. From the large pool of interested techies, 800 apps were actually available for use on Day 1. By comparison, presently over 248,000 developers have taken a hold of the toolkit, resulting in more than half a million applications that are available for a range of Apple products (including the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad).
The computing industry has not looked back. Apple’s first move into applications development by an arms’ length developer community opened the gates for its competitors to imitate the approach, and they did. Following in the footsteps of Apple were Microsoft, Research in Motion, Samsung, Google, Nokia, and HP.
Even Amazon has gotten into the app download business with a curated platform called its Appstore, although it has been the subject of a lawsuit by Apple for using language that Apple claimed was trademarked.
In fact, Apple was not the first company to make a toolkit available. Ebay had done a similar thing with its accelerator toolkit for eBat, the legacy system that existed on its auction site as far back as 2003. But Apple was the first to provide an API to third-party developers to create self-contained applications that sit on a handheld device, which could be invoked even without cell service present.
The trend line for consumers downloading from the app store is pretty much a classic hockey stick curve. In the ten months from July 2008 through April 2009, total downloads reached the 1 billion mark. By January of 2011, however, they shot past the 10 billion counter. The rate of growth of app downloading more recently has exceeded the hyperkinetic rate of increase of the middle interval, taking only 15 months to reach 25 billion.
As Al Hilwa, an applications development software analyst at IDC told the Financial Times, “the 25bn milestone is a symbol for the explosive growth of the app economy.”
Apps are different both psychically and physically from the habitual purchase patterns that came before. As Mr. Hilwa explained, “Apps bring a simplicity of interaction that eluded previous generations. Enterprise applications will eventually follow consumer ones, marking an industry transition to this style of software.”
Apps have also disrupted the pricing model for software, computing and web services. Whereas a purchaser of software might spend anywhere from $30 to $300 at the low end for boxed applications, stripped down versions are often available at the App store for $3.99 or even a dollar. In fact, a ton of useful applications are free using a freemium business model, wherein only a portion of the community is ever expected to upgrade to paid subscription.
Photo courtesy Creative Commons 2.0, Rob Boudon