One year on: Apple iPhone 3G and App Store

11th Jul 2009 | 10:20

One year on: Apple iPhone 3G and App Store

How 50,000 apps changed how we think about mobiles

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The impact of the iPhone 3G

A year ago today, Apple launched the iPhone 3G, the handset that changed everything. But what really revolutionised the mobile landscape is what happened the day after; the advent of the App Store.

Both launches have had a phenomenal effect on the UK's mobile web traffic, with the iPhone now accounting for almost half of the UK's data over mobile.

Biut first, it's easy to gloss over the fact the iPhone 3G moved Apple's mobile vision up several gears. The £269 up-front price of November 2007's first-gen model was hefty, but nobody expected the eye-catching £99 cost of the new model, announced at last year's WWDC.

Equally, given the original iPhone's pricing, it seemed unbelievable when, within months, O2 and Carphone Warehouse started offering the 3G for free on the usual £35 a month tariff.

The 3G also saw Apple step up the sale of the iPhoneworldwide - in a total of 21 countries from 11 July. Whereas the original handset had been available to a privileged (and rich) few, the second-generation model was far more of a global proposition.

A billion apps and counting

But it was the App Store – debuting as part of the iPhone 2.0 firmware – that really propelled the iPhone platform forward. Now with well over a billion apps downloaded in nearly 80 countries, the top iPhone apps had more than one million users in the UK in May 2009 according to mobile advertising firm AdMob.

"In twelve months more than 50,000 applications have been added to the Apple App Store," says Thomas Schulz, head of AdMob in Europe.

And not only have we had the usual productivity apps, but we've had all the fun stuff, too. "The App Store has helped birth the entire genre of pocket computing – a huge, paradigm-shattering shift in IT," believes Chris Phin, Deputy Editor of MacFormat.

"I don't care that it doesn't pull in spectacular revenue for Apple – though some small developers can do very well, thank you very much –and at this stage I don't even really care, at least as a consumer, that Apple's restrictive practices and the clogging up and weird decisions of the App Store review process is causing headaches for developers."

Indeed Apple only has itself to blame for the controversy over some apps, such as the infamous Baby Shaker, while it's approval process continues to flummox some developers.

The top apps did phenomenally well in the initial weeks, with Shazam being one of the names to announce substantial download figures – 1.5 million in the first six weeks of availability.

"The revolutionary App Store has been a phenomenal hit with iPhone and iPod touch users around the world," said Philip Schiller, Apple's head of Worldwide Product Marketing when the App Store hit the download milestone of a billion apps at the end of April. "In nine months, the App Store has completely revolutionised the mobile industry and this is only the beginning."

The peerless appeal of the App Store is its simplicity. "That's the genius," says Phin. "It's easy to add apps – tap-tap-tap-done; and there's thousands of good, free ones to boot – and so it's easy to transform your iPhone from a glorified PDA to a turn-by-turn GPS system, a library of classic novels, a guitar tuner and so, so much more."

3.0 firmware more important still

3.0 firmware more important still

Phin believes that the 3.0 firmware is going to prove more monumental still, because of its support for hardware add-ons. "Nobody really can grasp how amazing this will to be; it's going to put devices running the iPhone OS (note the wording there) at the heart of medical, fitness, audio, lifestyle and pretty-much-everything-else-that-you-can-think-of devices in the years to come."

"It's this extensibility – ironic for a company unfairly famed for closed, proprietary systems – that will let the iPhone platform flourish."

Indeed, iPhone OS 3.0 provides developers with over 1,000 new APIs. As well as the hardware support, these enable othere features such as In-App Purchases, Peer-to-Peer connections and Push Notifications. We're yet to see the result of many of these so far, though.

But the plethora of apps is now having side-effects; apps are finding it harder to bubble to the surface. With millions now downloaded every week, it is becoming increasingly hard for developers to capture the attention of consumers,"

And the iPhone has other challenges, too. Carriers have continued to be under the spotlight. Here in the UK, O2 continues to be criticised for its patchy 3G coverage as does AT&T in the US.

The audience at Apple's WWDC were hardly impressed when it became evident that AT&T wouldn't be supporting MMS (updated in the 3.0 firmware) until later in the year.

App Store impact elsewhere

The App Store is certainly driving online advertising forward, says Schulz. "Many developers are now using mobile advertising to drive downloads of their applications.

"Not only is this boosting sales of paid-for apps, it is also helping developers to monetise the traffic generated by their free applications. Mobile advertising benefits both consumers and developers as the ads will help consumers users find new apps, and developers can afford to invest more time producing and updating their applications."

In the UK, 28.4 per cent of ad requests came from the iPhone, just more than in the US, while globally it was 18.6 per cent.

And now, Apple has released the 3GS, a non game-changing handset that we can't help but think is a halfway house between the 3G and the next, kick ass iPhone revolution. It does mean that the 3G suddenly looks like the budget option, with a £87 starter price tag for the 3GS on a standard O2 tariff.

Apple continues to be bullish about its handsets, press releasing a million weekend sales after the first few days of the 3GS being in stores, just as it did with the 3G. In contrast, it took 74 days to sell the first one million original iPhones – but you did have to lay down that wedge of cash up front, of course.

"Customers are voting and the iPhone is winning," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO in his return-from-hiatus statement. "With over 50,000 applications available from Apple's revolutionary App Store, iPhone momentum is stronger than ever." He's right, you know.

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