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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.

The year also saw the launch of Instagram—maybe you've heard of it? The free app launched exclusively on the iPhone. Two years later, Facebook bought it for $1 billion, which, however unfairly, did not propel the app to the top of the App Store paid apps chart.

Ninjas, water, 10 billion and beyond
In January 2011, the App Store passed 10 billion downloads. The 10 billionth app downloaded was a game called Paper Glider; it's unclear whether the fact that the developer behind the app offers free beer to its employees each Friday played any role in the company's success.

Subscriptions arrived in the App Store in early 2011, alongside the launch of News Corp's The Daily. The app embraced the ability to charge customers on a renewing basis, but the publication failed to catch on with readers; it stopped its virtual presses less than two years later, in December 2012.

But while The Daily floundered, subscriptions caught on in a big way; nowadays nearly every major publisher of periodicals offers subscription-based access to their magazines and newspapers in the App Store.

Of course, that wasn't without speedbumps either. Apple takes 30 percent of anything a developer sells on the App Store. So Apple gets 30 percent of your app's price, and 30 percent of any subscriptions you sell via the App Store, and 30 percent of any in-app purchase, too. Apple eventually offered publishers some concessions from its initial policy, allowing them to offer subscription access outside of the App Store, too, without requiring that such subscriptions cut in Apple. Still, in other cases, Apple didn't budge: Amazon was forced to rip the link to its Kindle store out of the Kindle reading app, since said store doesn't cut Apple in on the ebook lucre—it remains absent to this day.

March 2011 saw the launch of the iPad 2; that's when the App Store zoomed by 65,000 iPad-specific apps. The App Store's reach swelled to 123 countries.

October 2011 marked the launch of the iPhone 4S, which also heralded the debut of Siri. Apple's virtual assistant, of course, came to the company's attention via the (since-discontinued) Siri app from SRI International. At the launch of the iPhone 4S, Apple said that the App Store now contained more than half a million apps, with downloads exceeding 18 billion; according to the company, customers were also downloading a billion apps every single month.

2011 was also the year that Temple Run exploded. After more than 100 million downloads, it's become one of the highest-grossing apps in App Store history. Angry Birds remained one of the most popular games of the year for the second year running, joined this time around by Fruit Ninja. Still absent, however, is any mention of a lucrative crossover game where fruit-slicing ninjas must attempt to defend themselves from furious avians. (Call me!)


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