Blog Post

How Apple Put Everyone In an App State of Mind

iappsSometime in the near future, Apple (s AAPL) is going to announce that a billion little apps have been download for use on its iPhone and iPod touch platforms. As of yesterday, about 945 million apps had been download. That translates to about 31 apps per iPhone/iPod touch out there. As it crosses the billion-apps mark, the company is showing that once again it has been able to take an existing, mundane business and turn it on its head. It panned a lead mine and struck gold. When the company took on the seemingly moribund music downloads business and turned it into a constantly clanging cash register, its detractors often bemoaned its autocratic ways and tight control of the iPod ecosystem. Apple, nevertheless, changed consumers’ behavior from downloading music on Napster to actually paying for it, and in the process, it became the largest digital downloads retailer.

Something similar is going on with mobile apps and the iPhone/iPod touch ecosystem. Apple certainly isn’t the first company to have apps for its platform — that honor goes to Palm (s PALM), which ruled the PDA planet, thanks to its thousands of developers. Nokia (s NOK), Microsoft (s MSFT) and RIM (s RIMM) have had developers writing clever apps for their Symbian, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry operating systems.

But neither the handset makers, the carriers, or even the OS vendors were able to create a user experience that allowed us to browse, search and download the app that really mattered. Perhaps they didn’t care enough — so long as the mobile industry maintained its status quo. Mike Rowehl, a mobile industry insider, writes:

The entire system was deadlocked cause no one with the power to was really interested in shaking it up. We kept getting fed excuse after excuse justifying the general lack of forward progress on all fronts. But then something comes along that makes it easy, often profitable, and frequently even fun to develop for mobile again. Apple has exposed the fact that the lack of progress in mobile wasn’t something inherent in the system. That someone with the right motivation can really shake things up and get the train moving again.

Since Apple’s iTunes for apps, almost everyone has jumped on the App-store bandwagon. RIM just announced its very competent App World store for BlackBerry. Microsoft is cooking one up, and Nokia has Ovi. Google has its Android Market. Every carrier is cooking up its own version of the app store. The current app store market is no different from the digital music download business in 2005. The market confusion helped Apple eventually become the dominant player, with Amazon presenting the only viable challenge.

Ask mobile app developers, and an overwhelming number are going for iPhone platform first, everything else later. Rowehl writes:

I’ve developed for just about every platform, and I know the ecosystem extremely well. It’s not that I’m blind to everything else. I know everything else that’s out there, and because of that I’ve chosen to develop for iPhone.

He’s not alone, as I pointed out earlier. According to some reports, Nokia’s Ovi store is being ignored by developers, even though Nokia ships many millions of smartphones every month. It seems folks at Nokia are aware of the problem at hand, though I’m not sure they quite get the extent of the apathy among developers. Earlier this month, when I met Anssi Vanjoki, executive V-P of markets at Nokia, the discussion unsurprisingly shifted toward Apple’s iPhone and the developer momentum.

“There is momentum with other platforms, which is good for the industry, as developers are now thinking about developing for mobile devices,” Vanjoki said. “But the situation is not static, and when products like N97 come to market, lots of people will develop for Nokia. We have to show volume, ease of development and show them (developers) the money.” Nokia clearly has its work cut out for it, if developers like Rowehl are any indication.


From a consumer perspective, what really matters to me is the long-tail of apps that are easy to find, download and install. I may have given up on AT&T’s (s T) iPhone, but I have not given up on the iPhone platform. Why? Because of the applications.

On my iPod Touch, I have three dozen apps installed, only a handful of them (like Facebook, NetNewsFire and that are free. Some are part of my daily work and play life: Sonus Controller, At Bat, Plusmo’s Mobicast, Evernote, Skype and Truphone. There are others that are indispensable to me: iBP, Weight Track and Blood Sugar. Prior to downloading these apps, I recorded my daily blood pressure, weight and glucose levels on a piece of paper, entering the data into a spreadsheet later and mailing it to my doctor every month. These obscure apps aren’t likely to be on the top 10 anytime soon, but they are on my top 10.

As Apple’s latest TV spots for the iPhone say, “There is an app for pretty much everything.” With nearly a billion downloads, you can say that again. To all the other contenders, good luck catching up.

(*) 945 million apps divided by 30 million iPod touches and iPhones.

57 Responses to “How Apple Put Everyone In an App State of Mind”

  1. While the idea and concept of an application store is old news these days, the bottom line is that users now expect that experience. Microsoft’s response is the windows mobile marketplace. All of the details are not clear at this time because all we have to go on is the announcement, but my guess is that Microsoft understands how important the mobile application store and experience is to the user community and I think they are highly motivated to deliver a great portal and experience for us mobile users. Being a developer myself. I can’t wait to get started with the new marketplace.

  2. J. O'Donnell

    I would be the first to congratulate Apple on delivering a mobile application store which combines a clean interface with easy to use download and update capabilities however; I would also ask if Apple is becoming a victim of their own success?

    Apple’s clean user interface design works well with a few hundred or few thousand applications but now with the total number of applications currently over 30,000 that interface is starting to look like it’s going to fall apart under the load. Imagine you’re a developer who has built the next great game. Pretty soon your game will be highlighted on one of 50+ pages of information. Will every iPhone user page through all this data or will they take the easy option and just look at the top twenty or so games. What happens if your game is at position number 25? Sorry but the users will have to dig for it and in all likelihood many won’t make the effort.

    There are two problems facing the Apple app store. The first is simply the number of applications and the second is simply the noise created by so many applications being uploaded which potentially are really just a quick technical demo that the new to apple programmer put together in a day and thought he would upload to see who would buy it. While in most cases Apple does not validate the quality of an application, this also means that the app store is absolutely flooded with shovel ware. Currently the app store does not make it easy to find the gold in the system beyond the top 20 or so lists. With so much bad software, consumers are already reporting that in many cases downloaded applications are never used again after 24 hours.

    Apple has certainly raised the bar for the mobile industry by making it easy to download and update applications however their next challenge is to work out how to make it easy for consumers to find the gold in a system that already seems overloaded with over priced and under featured applications. I will watch with interest how other vendors will respond. Additionally I can imagine that magazine publishers are already eyeing the number of mobile applications that are appearing and realizing that they can launch review style magazines to help get consumers to the best mobile applications.

    Finally even Samsung has launched their own mobile app store at

  3. RobbieMc

    Folks, remember that the billion unumber includes updates as well, so one app that has ten updates since start gets counted ten times for every person that kee4ps it up to date. Results are still impressive in year, but not as impressive as the big B number makes it sound.

  4. Hello Om,

    There is a better way to share your information with your doctor using iPhone – MyNetDiary is an online food diary with complementing iPhone app that syncs with it.

    We just added Community area access to the iPhone app – with groups, blogs, and forums, making it the first (albeit small – we just started) mobile health social network. You can enable sharing of your information (foods, exercises, and measurements, etc) with your doctor, and then you she can access online what you enter on iPhone.

    Both the web site and iPhone are first rate, with quick food search like Google Suggest, and 88,000 foods.

    The service is paid, but starting at $5/month it is well worth it.

    Just thought you might be interested in trying at something new and good.

    Best regards,
    Polina Oreshko

  5. And just think how many Apps they could have had downloaded / sold if the process didn’t require an account with a credit card…

    There are people who (rightly) feel nervous about putting their credit card info out there, don’t have credit cards or don’t use ‘traditional’ banking (probably just as well, seeing as how the Banking Industry is faring internationally) at all – and to them, App Stores like Apple’s and RIM’s are useless. And even freeware from these sites require credit cards to set up the account.

    Apple has prepaid iTunes Cards, yet you can’t use them at the App Store, nor do they have an App equivalent.

    Lost opportunities…

    • So, Baz, you’re saying that people who own an iPhone, who had to register their iPhone thru iTunes don’t have credit cards?

      Dude, if they have an iPhone, they’ve already gotten over their fear of credit cards.

  6. John Dingler

    Hi Om,
    Knowing that I am a supporter of most things Apple, a friend teased me by informing me that there is currently, as of last week, no “price comparison” app for the iPhone. He went into detail. Oh my. It sounded like a cool app.

    He said that he could use his Blackberry (I think) to glide over several products in the store belonging to the same category, e.g., cameras, and get an instant readout telling him useful things needed to make a wise product choice.

    If true that the iPhone has no such app., I hope someone introduces it.

  7. Device-specific app installs are dinosaurs from the last decade. As soon as Web sites more properly support phones, the idea of having an app installed on your phone to reach a web site or web services is going to seem as antiquated as CD-ROMs.

  8. Ultimately choice of platform depends on who you target and what the application does. Certainly for games, media, entertainment, etc, the iPhone is the place to be, or at least the place to start. If your app is a productivity tool for business people, however, you can’t ignore that blackberry has 40% of the US smartphone market (source: this article by fortune, and certainly an even larger share of people who use their phone for business. The dialers we are developing for Toktumi’s virtual office platform will necessarily be on both platforms. Maybe we’ll be able to stand out more in the less-crowded blackberry app store. Note: we only target US/Canada customers – if we were global, then we could not ignore Symbian.

    • The link to the fortune article changes upon click (hovering shows the correct URL, clicking brings you to a different URL, about notebook market shares.) Not sure why! To find the article, which has lots of good data on US and worldwide smartphone market, google “2008 US smartphone market share” and its the top link in the search results.

  9. Adam Jackson

    I absolutely love how Apple made “app” a household term.

    12 months ago, app was just a geeky term and wasn’t common knowledge and Apple’s store + those catchy commercials, “there’s an app for that” really made it common knowledge.

    I even hear my mom and dad who aren’t tech savvy mentioning, “is there really an app for finding local places to eat?” OR “is there a yelp app for my computer?”

    It’s great and the iPhone is really dominating the space as usual.

  10. Egads almost 1billion! A friend and I tried to get into developing for the Iphone but we both have windows pcs so we didn’t have much of an option. We looked at virtual installs of MAC OS variants, but the installs were too flakey based on user experience.

    There’s a TON of developers that are itching to get into the market, precisely because of the long tails. Flooding it is unlikely as long as you can match your product to a user group need/desire.

  11. Steve Haney

    What people often overlook is the fact that Apple puts MASSIVE consumer advertising behind the iPhone and the app store as well. The wireless carriers, who were in the driver’s seat for this category of apps before Apple took over, never did any such advertising. All they could focus on was “the network” and voice minute plans. All very important to consumers, but not what the mobile app development community needed. The other platform players will need to invest the same kind of cash (in the hundreds of millions of dollars), if they are to catch up and compete.

    While the iPhone is a great platform and I would never give up my own iPhone, I do worry that an “iTunes affect” may kick in and just like with the iTunes/iPod ecosystem, Apple will create a virtuous cycle around the App Store/iPhone that will lead to its dominance and all other alternatives will get shoved to the wayside. While there has been a lot of debilitating environment fragmentation in the mobile marketplace creating a lot of angst for developers, it has also meant a lot of competition and innovation on every possible level. Something we lost on the desktop ages ago.

    I don’t think that will happen in mobile. The industry will probably shake out to a handful of robust platforms (6 or less?) in the next 5 to 10 years that will thrive and each will keep the others on its toes. This will be great for everyone in the value chain.

  12. I’d change the article title to say “an App *Store* state of Mind” because this is what is truly new and the driver for the things you mentioned. And I think the distinction is important because there have always been a ton of great little apps out there for Windows Mobile, though they are not always easy to find. But I think that has positives as well as negatives. As a result of the fact that anyone can put up an app on any website, device-specific forums popped up allowing for people to surface/discuss the better apps and also to determine when an app wouldn’t work with their specific device (or carrier, since the same phone may be more locked down on one than another).

    In the case of the iPhone it’s much easier to have a centralized store because you’re not dealing with 30 kinds of hardware, so reviews and popular app lists are actually useful. In the case of Palm, Windows Mobile, etc., you would get reviews that were skewed if an app didn’t work on some devices/carriers.

    And, of course, without needing app approvals like in a centralized store there’s no suppressing of any ideas or use of the hardware. All that said, there’s still definite value to having a centralized store.

    • Synthmeister

      A centralized store with centralized DRM also helps make sure the developers get paid for their apps. Because of Apple’s DRM, developers can charge quite a bit less for apps, which in turn makes them much more attractive to casual users. Plus, since Apple continually upgrades and maintains the DRM, that’s one less headache for developers to worry.

      Curious to know how Google, MS, Nokia, Palm etc. handle DRM. This is actually one case where I believe it benefits the consumer.

  13. Om,

    In general, yes, the iPhone App Store is groundbreaking. However, I do think we’ve reached a saturation point where there’s a rush by developers to try to ‘strike gold’ by getting very low quality / useless apps on the platform itself. Apple has a hand in this as well by promoting quantity over quality. I wrote more about this topic on our blog:

    iPhone App Market – Next Bubble to Burst?

    30,000 iPhone Apps???


    • Synthmeister

      With OS 3.0, the developer bubble is not anywhere near bursting. OS 3.0 gives developers many, many more hardware and software hooks into the iPhone and more importantly, gives them more options to make money. Subscriptions, in program upgrades and purchases.

      Plus, various books, guides, tutorials and podcasts are just now coming online on how to program for the iPhone. (Thanks to Apple’s restrictive policies in the first year.)

  14. Apple certainly isn’t the first company to have apps for its platform — that honor goes to Palm.

    Um… this is factually incorrect.

    1. Palm Pilot launched 1997 the Apple OMP (Newton) was 1993. Both had the ability to have 3rd party apps.
    2. Sharp Wizard was some time before 1990. They had expansion ports which really were an app platform in the days before digital distribution.

    Palm wasn’t first. They were 3rd at best in the US… not sure about overseas as Japan has had quite a few devices that never even made it to the US.

    • Nicholas

      I get a melancholy feeling every time I recall my brick of a Newton! So many possibilities…

      The App Store is the first front to back system of tools, support (or lack thereof), and sales. Somebody could do it better, by servicing the developers better, but that would require compelling hardware as well as tools and a sales channel. Sadly, RIM doesn’t quite get that people have to develop as well as sell. We approached our product rationally, and the iPhone was a perfect fit.

      Having customers is critical. Who else, besides iPhone users, purchases media and applications in large numbers?

  15. Om,

    Now if only we found another Steve Jobs among the 6-7 billion of us inhabiting the planet who figured out a way to finally cure cancer, HIV, many dreaded diseases, alternate energy solutions, heart diseases, blood pressure issues and the countless other serious yet very very neglected things that plague the planet – these too are lead mines — but we need to find gold here…oh and did I mention peace?


  16. Despite the iphone having serious technical drawbacks, eg, no front camera, no wii-fi, the battery can’t be changed and a whole host of other drawbacks, judging from the no. of 3rd party apps that are developed for the iphone, it seems that it is here to stay, and it’s growing. This, despite the fact that there are better phones compared to the iphone in the market.

    So Apple’s competitors may come up with their own app store, but 3rd party app developers will choose to make apps for the iphone first, then make it compatible for the rest of the hps

    • Nicholas

      First, the likelihood of video chat will necessitate a front camera. Secondly, the iPhone has Wi-Fi. Thirdly, consumers do not care about removable batteries. They care about power. Hopefully, Apple will create some sort of power pad…

      Better phones are only useful in the sense of better applications. Having dual channel UMTS only matters if I have a decent browser. Apple was the first to have a fully functional browser, thankfully sans Flash, in the mobile space. Palm’s OS is based on these tools — WebKit.

      Apple proves again and again, that technical specifications are only important when inefficiencies make the experience seem slow. While the Nokia N810 appeared slow to me, the iPhone never really has. Do not use Flash on the N810! And, by this summer any thoughts of the iPhone as anything less than a mobile computer are going to be erased.

  17. Om,

    The emphasis on user experience has probably also played a role in decision making elsewhere. Whether it was the relationship with the developers or others. In a post on Nokia, I had listed down some aspects of the experience that needed improvement. It is here..

    The other question that one must consider, have some other providers thought more of corporate admin departments rather than the end user in defining their customer. In which case, there is likely to be some confusion in decision making with regard to making applications for the customers who actually use the phone. This is borne by a personal experience. Last year around this time, I had wanted to know if their was a mobile application that integrated with learning management systems to provide mobile friendly content on Blackberry. After extensive trying, I had to give up because the information could not be provided because I was not from the major analyst firms.

    Would like to know your views.. thanks

  18. Om

    One major reason of the success of the iPhone is that the ideas for apps are coming primarily from the consumers. Never before had the consumer been exposed so such a simple UI and such great innovations like the ones present in the iPhone.

    This marriage of the long tail of human ingenuity and the iPhone innovations has just proved brilliant. The iPhone platform has enable the aggregation of human ideas that can be implemented on the iPhone, and this has created a lot of innovative apps.

    Anyone in the world can have an idea, get it developed relatively inexpensively and then have the app to the consumer in a matter of weeks. This same process used to take months if not years when the enterprises (hardware and software vendors in the mobile space) used to take such decisions for us.

    We think the Appstore is the greatest ever market research being carried out, with instantaneous feedback!

  19. Interesting that the kind of third party development/outside innovation/crowdsourced popularity generator that helped drive iPhone sales is almost exactly the opposite of Apple’s strategy in its desktop and laptop hardware segments. Are the wheels in Cupertino turning?

  20. Om,

    You are absolutely right. iPhone is the development platform of choice for developers. While we did the IDrive Lite, the online backup for Contacts on the iPhone platform first, the only other platform for which we have real user requests and are actually considering developing is the Blackberry platform.