This weekend Apple's App Store will reach its second birthday. Like many good Apple things - iPods with video, electronic books, tablet computers - Steve Jobs originally pooh-poohed the idea of iPhone apps.
Who needs applications when developers can build web-based applications instead? Some 225,000 apps, 5 billion downloads and tens of millions of iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad sales later, the answer appears to be: everyone.
The numbers are truly extraordinary. The App Store launched with just 500 apps, but that number went up quickly: 10,000 by December 2008, 100,000 the following November and 200,000 this April.
The number of downloads went through the roof, too. The Store hit 10 million downloads within four days, reached its first billion in nine months and cracked the five billion mark before two years were up. Not bad for something nobody wanted or needed.
It hasn't been perfect - Apple has been accused of overzealous censorship, of having an inconsistent approvals process and of letting all kinds of crap into the App Store - but the App Store deserves birthday congratulations for two very good reasons. It's been great for independent developers, and it's been great for ordinary users.
Developers first. While App Store millionaires are the minority, Apple reckons that between them, its developers have still trousered more than a billion dollars in App Store revenues. Does anyone really think web-based iPhone apps would have generated even a fraction of that? It's hard to stand out from the crowd, we know, but the App Store does enable even the smallest development team - or individual - to compete with the big boys, and word of mouth can still generate significant sales.
The knock-on effect of that is a whole wide world of applications covering every conceivable niche, usually at a knock-down price. Even Apple's apps are cheap: six quid for an iPad word processor? It wasn't so long ago that considerably less powerful programs cost hundreds.
Being able to pick up apps for a few quid here, a few pence there encourages us to experiment, to forget our favourites when something brighter and better comes along - and that in turn means developers are constantly under pressure to raise their game, to create even better applications. Software hasn't been this exciting since the online shareware explosion of the nineties.
We're in the middle of an extraordinary period of innovation, a time when anything seems possible and when even fairly modest hardware is an all-singing, all-dancing do-anything machine. That may have happened without the App Store, but we very much doubt it. App-y birthday, App Store.
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