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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.

Billions and billions served
By January 2012, Apple had paid out more than $4 billion to developers, and by March of that year, the App Store had surpassed 25 billion downloads. The 25 billionth app downloaded was from a little upstart called Disney; the app was its hugely popular Where's My Water game.

In 2012, the App Store grew again, reaching more than 153 countries. The year saw the launch of Paper for the iPad, a drawing app that went on to be named Apple's App of the Year. Temple Run continued its, er, run as one of the most popular games, joined by Draw Something—at least one of those is still played on occasion in 2013.

It was also the year of the iPad with Retina display—two of them, in fact—along with the iPad mini and the iPhone 5, meaning that developers had to plan for more screen permutations than ever before.

In May 2013, just 14 months after hitting 25 billion apps downloaded, the App Store crossed the 50 billion download marker. This time, the app in question was Say the Same Thing, an app designed in part by members of the band OK Go. And in June of this year, Apple said that it had paid more than $10 billion to developers, an increase of $6 billion in a scant 15 months. That's about $400 million per month over that period—not too shabby.

There's an app for that
The App Store isn't perfect by any means, but it's significant that it achieved all these milestones despite its flaws. Over the years, developers have continued to wrestle with the much-maligned review process, which convinces some not to even start building potential apps for fear that they might be rejected. Then there's the strict sandboxing—enforced from day one—that limits apps' ability to interact with one another. Not to mention the still-clunky App Store search and discovery process on iOS, in iTunes, and on the Web.

The App Store is clearly flawed. At the same time, though, it's clearly wonderful. Double-tap the Home button on your nearest iOS device, and swipe through the apps you used most recently. Sure, you probably rely on Apple apps like Messages and Safari, but it's pretty likely that you turn to at least a few remarkable third-party apps each day, too.

In my case, I use apps like Tweetbot, Instapaper, and Reeder for staying informed; Mailbox and Fantastical for email and calendar; Scribblenauts and Words With Friends for fun; and MyFitnessPal and Fitbit for staying reasonably healthy. And a whole lot of HBO Go.

I also use iOS apps to deposit checks, read books and magazines, make music, and write. It's a reasonable bet that you use iOS apps for a whole lot of things, too; some of them may overlap with my list above, others might be apps that I've never even heard of.


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