The smartphone has been the biggest innovation of our lives. The way it has changed our lives is unprecedented — creating new ecosystems, jobs and changing economies on their heads. No other product would have impacted human behaviour more in the past century. But, we often forget that almost the entire success of smartphones can actually be attributed to apps that run on it and not the device itself. And the success of apps would have been a shade of what it is now, had it not been for Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store.
Apple launched its App Store exactly 10 years ago, thus changing the very nature of the mobile phone industry. Apps were not new, but till then users had to be content with what was given to them on the phone they had. A lot of choices had been made for them and the only choice the consumer had was to select the brand. So Nokia had the best games, BlackBerry had the best messenger, Sony had the best music app and so on. There was no way customers could have the best of all worlds, unless, of course, you were extremely rich or ran a multi-brand retail shop for mobile phones.
This is where Steve Jobs unveiled the App Store on July 10, 2008. Soon iPhone users had access to thousands on apps, not just the handful Apple had packed on to the phone. This move was so impactful that the App Store became a good reason for people to buy the iPhone. Yes, the iPhone kicked off the smartphone race, but apps were the fuel that powered it.
In the early days, the best apps were mostly paid, but that did not deter people from buying the phone or enjoying the apps. It took Google almost four more years to launch its Google Store and trigger the real democratisation of apps, killing the APK sharing culture which had spawned many privacy and security issues around the world.
Interestingly, the fact that not all apps on Apple’s App Store were always free seems to have rubbed off on the company in good way. Even now app monetisation is way better on Apple’s platforms than Google’s Play Store though the latter has many more users. This is why the best apps are usually made first for iOS before finding its way to the Google Play Store. With more money to be made developers have an easy choice. It also helps that Apple’s users are more likely to spend than Android users given the economic profile.
Also, where would Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other large apps be without these stores? Would the apps have been the successes they are now without the stores? I doubt.
Meanwhile, does anyone still use the Windows Phone and BlackBerry app stores?