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Interpreting 1,000,000,000 downloads

Sometime this week Apple's App Store will reach the milestone of one billion downloads. That is a billion downloads of applications, available free-of-charge or for a fee, from the App Store on Apple's iTunes, for use on an Apple iPhone or iTouch. The number is a sign of the mobile changing times.

A less-heralded fact is that back on 19 November 2008 the Mozilla Firefox browser and Firefox Add-ons (ie browser applications or plug-ins) also reached the milestone of one billion downloads. That is a billion downloads, all eating away at the browser leader, Microsoft Explorer. It's a sign of the browser changing times.

These two billion downloads are milestones in the context of the decades since 1966 when the term "software products" first entered the computing lexicon. Two years earlier, in 1964, the term "database" came into use.

A database of software products is what you'll find in Apple's App Store or on the Firefox add-ons page.

Following Apple's lead now are others setting up application super stores within their ecosystems. They include Blackberry and Nokia.

Key developments in contemporary software

The two billion number provides some measure for key features or developments in the contemporary IT software and hardware environment. Here's a quick listing of some of these:

  • Centrality of browsers (iTunes has browser-like aspects)
  • Proliferation of plug-ins (AKA add-ons, apps or applications)
  • Promotion of apps based on free as a business model
  • Use of mini-applications to support mobile activity, and unlock users from the desktop
  • Leverage-effect of platform ecosystems for their owners and users. To date, Apple has sold around 21 million iPhones (including an estimated 700,000 or more in Australia) and around 16 million iPod Touches for a total of around 37 million devices using the iPhone operating system.
  • Revenue-earning opportunity from control of cloud-based software or services
  • Viability of open source software (eg Firefox) as well as proprietary software (eg Apple iTunes and mini-applications in the App Store)
  • Speed of change, including in consumer habits - Apple's App Store has only been open for third party downloads since July 2009

Analysis of Apple's App Store

For additional useful and easy to understand information on Apple's App Store go to these articles - BusinessWeek and The Age.

The economics of the Apps Store includes these elements:

  • Apps price - for paid apps most cost between $0.99 and $9.99 (compare this to say a Treo 650 for which one user has said the price was "frequently priced $25 or higher" per app)
  • Higher priced apps - the more expensive apps sell for over $100, eg Guitar Tuner is $109.99 and Lexi-Comp medical reference apps range from $74.99 to $219.99
  • Apple's share, hosting and marketing - Apple takes a 30% share of the revenue earned by paid apps, but hosts free apps at no cost. Apple also promotes the apps on iTunes. Apps can be accessed on  iPhones and iPod Touch; that's a market of about 40 million devices and growing
  • Apple's revenues - Apple has not said how much it earns from the Apps Store.

Finally, a couple of good external sources if you want to do more analysis:

  • AppSherpa is a useful site if you want to browse App Store apps by user ranking, price or other features.
  • O'Reilly Radar has useful graphs and statistics about the App Store in the 16 April 2009 post, Waiting for the Billionth Download. The post states "Slightly over 35,000 apps have appeared in the U.S. app store. Over 31,000 were available in the last week alone, about 78% of which were PAID apps". The 35,000 figure is up from 15,000 announced by Apple about three months ago!

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