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The App Store turns five: A look back and forward

Lex Friedman | July 9, 2013
Five years ago, the App Store was born. Lex Friedman recounts the history of this crowning achievement of the iOS platform.

five years of app store

Five years ago, the App Store was born. A million apps, billions of dollars, and an uncountably high number of Angry Birds later, the store is unquestionably a smashing, unrivaled success. These days, customers download more than 800 apps every single second.

When the iPhone launched in 2007, Steve Jobs famously told developers that they could write "apps" for the device by creating Web apps. Developers mostly scoffed at that pronouncement—some went so far as to jailbreak their phones just so they could play around with creating software for the revolutionary new device.

Respite came in March 2008, when Apple laid out the roadmap for iOS development—including a software development kit (SDK) for programmers to write their own apps—and announced that it would provide a storefront through which developers could sell their software.

The App Store launched on July 10, 2008, with a whopping 552 apps on its virtual shelves; the most common prices were $1 and $10, and there were a mere 135 free apps.

In the intervening years, the App Store has made some developers fabulously wealthy; gave some a new, stable career; and left others with broken dreams and disappointments. But owners of iOS devices didn't focus on the App Store lottery—they simply cheered the many awesome new abilities their devices gained.

This is the story of the App Store's success; it's a success that has come in the face of plenty of issues with the store, many of which persist even to today. But more on that in a bit.

Not-so-humble beginnings
Among those 552 launch apps were many that still grace our home screens: At Bat, Facebook, Yelp, Shazam, and Super Monkey Ball, to name a few. The App Store launched simultaneously in 62 countries; then, as now, it was accessible from a devoted iOS app, or as a feature sort of crammed into iTunes.

Steve Jobs announces the App Store.

The App Store's first weekend saw more than 10 million app downloads. Less than a month later, Sega's Super Monkey Ball hit 300,000 downloads, netting Sega $3 million and Apple more than $1 million of its own, thanks to the store's 70/30 revenue split.

By September, the store had surpassed 100 million downloads, and when the end of 2008 rolled around, the most downloaded app of the year, with 5 million downloads, was Facebook. Of course, since that particular app was (and remains) free of charge, those downloads didn't translate directly into dollars for Facebook or Apple. But as the App Store's fortunes rose, so too did the iPhone's, and later the iPad's. And Facebook's mobile usage went through the roof.


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