That’s when Apple, a year after launching the iPhone, introduced its App Store to the world.
The online marketplace launched with 500 apps, mostly for established Web companies such as Facebook, eBay and Yelp. Today, it has more than 850,000. And, a couple of months ago, it passed a mind-boggling threshold, marking the 50 billionth app to be downloaded.
Apple can no longer claim proprietary ownership of apps, those mini-programs that continue to push the boundaries of what a mobile phone can do. Google launched its own app store, now called Play, less than a year after Apple. Today, it’s on a path toward surpassing Apple’s number of downloads.
But the iPhone was the first smartphone most folks ever saw, and the App Store was the accessory that gave it extra usefulness. On this anniversary, we look at five iconic apps that got a huge lift from the App Store and expanded the capabilities of our phones.
Before the App Store, video games were, by and large, for hard-core players with consoles or souped-up PCs. Now the line between who is a gamer and who’s not is blurry — and millions of people have “Angry Birds” to thank. The deceptively addictive little game, in which players fling a flock of … well … angry birds at their pig nemeses, is the top-selling paid app in the App Store’s history.
Since its launch in 2009, the game has become a franchise, with spinoffs, toys, cartoons and even a movie making up just part of Swedish developer Rovio Entertainment’s furious, feathered empire.
With the rise of Google’s Android system as Apple’s chief mobile rival, there’s a certain irony that one of its products was a key to the App Store’s success. But since Google Maps rolled out as a native app for the iPhone, the ability to get directions on the go has become one of mobile computing’s key features. (Does anyone still hand-draw maps?)
Yes, there are other map apps out there. But Google’s treasure-trove of data makes its maps a go-to for millions. Witness the mini-disaster Apple had on its hands when it bumped Google’s offering for its own Maps app last year. Apple’s product was so half-baked that CEO Tim Cook, in a rare mea culpa, essentially told users to download Google Maps until it was fixed.
By 2008 Pandora already had become a popular Web-streaming service, letting users seed their own personal radio stations with bands or songs they liked. But the company was quick to see the potential in mobile computing, and Pandora was among the first apps available when the App Store went live.
Since then, it’s become the second-most downloaded iPhone app in the store’s history, trailing only Facebook. Its proof of concept — that users want to be able to bring their music with them anywhere — also helped inspire a host of competitors, from Spotify to Rdio to Last.fm.
Mobile phones, particularly smartphones, made all of us photographers. That’s a huge shift. But, sadly for most of us, it didn’t make us all good photographers. Enter Instagram — with a slate of editing tools and funky filters that can make even the most pedestrian pictures look good. Add to that Instagram’s social features, complete with Twitter-like hashtags, and you’ve got a tool tailor-made for mobile.
Launched in 2010 by Stanford University students, Instagram now moves about 45 million images every day. Oh … and those creators also sold it to Facebook last year for a cool $1 billion.
It seems like a little thing, until you stop and think about it: What if your phone could listen to a few seconds of a song, then tell you what it is? That would have sounded like magic not so many years ago. Now, we take it for granted. Shazam started in the UK in 2002 as a Web service.
But it was front and center at the beginning of the mobile revolution, and is now among Apple’s Top 10 downloaded apps, with 300 million users.