Five Years Ago Apple’s App Store Changed How We Used Phones

PHOTO: App Store Five Year Anniversary
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My assignment: Review apps that promised to place free calls on cell phones. Simple enough. But it was one that would take days to complete. There would be testing involved, yes, but first, I had to get those apps.

I visited the various app websites (many of which no longer exist), looked for the download links and confirmed the downloads with browser pop-ups. Then, if I was lucky enough to succeed and avoid the dreaded error messages, I would go find the apps in the download folder. It was a time- consuming process, one which very few would see through to the end after reading a short review about the app.

Yet I persevered, and completed the article.

That was in February 2008 while I was on staff at Laptop Magazine. It was just about six months before Apple released its App Store for the iPhone on July 10, 2008.

It might sound overly dramatic, but that day five years ago was pivotal -- even "revolutionary," which is how Apple described it -- in the history of mobile computing. To have access to apps on your phone was no longer a privilege for people in the inner tech sanctum. The public was now invited in. Apps quickly went mainstream, becoming accessible to most smartphone owners through a clean and friendly storefront. That first weekend alone saw 10 million apps downloaded.

Get Free Apps to Celebrate App Store's Anniversary

Contrary to what many might believe, Apple didn't invent the app store concept for mobile phones. One store called Handango had come preloaded on many Windows Mobile, Palm and Nokia, but very few paid attention to the preloaded mobile mall. It was the launch of Apple's store that prompted millions to hop on the app bandwagon and start downloading advanced software. Sure, it had something to do with the appeal of that fancy new iPhone thing, but the "opening" of the Apple store was just as transformational as the all-touchscreen phone.

"The richness of the iPhone, and later the iPad, as a platform was what really encouraged app developers to invest the resources to create these games and apps that were very sophisticated," Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, told me yesterday.

Because of that technology and a slew of innovative app developers we now assume there is an "app for that" in almost every situation -- whether for ordering Girl Scout cookies, snapping photos of a catastrophic event or wasting time on the commute swiping away pieces of candy.

Of course, the impact hasn't only been felt by the booming population of smartphone owners; thousands of companies have jumped into the app world, creating applications for Apple, Android and other mobile app stores that followed. Apple alone estimates that nearly 300,000 jobs related to app development have been created in the U.S.

For the last five years apps have been only a single tap away rather than 10 to 20. And that has literally made a world of difference.

Now, can someone please assign me that story on how to make free calls on a smartphone again?

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