Here are 5 ways Apple's App Store changed how we use smartphones

The App Store turns 10 today. You can thank it for Uber and Instagram.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
5 min read

Without Apple's App Store, your iPhone may well have just stayed a phone.

The App Store has been around so long, it's easy to forget that it wasn't always a core part of the iPhone concept. The store came a year after the introduction of original iPhone, arriving with the iPhone 3G. It debuted with 500 apps from developers like MLB and The New York Times, and iPhone and iPod Touch owners in 62 countries had access to the store when it opened 10 years ago today.

It didn't take long to figure out Apple was on to something. By the weekend following the App Store launch, the number of available apps had jumped to more than 800, and users had downloaded them over 10 million times.

"The App Store is a grand slam, with a staggering 10 million applications downloaded in just three days," Steve Jobs, Apple's then-CEO, said at the time.

He wasn't exaggerating. Fast-forward 10 years, and the App Store had "surpassed all of [Apple's] wildest expectations," as Phil Schiller, the company's head of marketing, put it last week.

Watch this: Apple's App Store turns 10: The top iOS apps of all time

Today, 500 million people from 155 countries visit the App Store each week. There are more than 2 million apps available for download, roughly 1.3 million of them designed specifically for the iPad . Developers are making big money -- more than $100 billion as of June 2018 -- selling apps.

Apple didn't respond to a request for additional numbers on the App Store. 

"The app distribution model Apple perfected was as important as the iPhone launch a year earlier for creating today's smartphone mass market," said Ian Fogg, a tech analyst who was formerly with IHS Markit. 

On Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook noted the 10th anniversary in a tweet, writing that "for hundreds of millions of people ... life is better because 'There's an app for that!''

Here are five ways the App Store changed phones as we know them:

It turned the iPhone into a must-have device and inspired scores of clones

Just how vital is the App Store to the iPhone's success? In a word -- extremely. Apps are what helped turn the iPhone into more than a phone. They're what get users hooked on their devices; American users access them for about five hours a day, according to Flurry Analytics. The vast majority of the time we spend on our phones, 88 percent, is devoted to using apps, according to ComScore.

Experts attribute the demise of BlackBerry and Microsoft's mobile ambitions to their troubles wooing app developers. Even Samsung , the world's biggest phone maker, struggled to convince developers to support the homegrown Tizen software found on its watches and TVs. The only other successful mobile platform, Google's Android, boasts 3.8 million apps in its Play Store.

It made phones more than phones

It used to be we all carried cellphones to make calls, text people and, maybe, play Snake. But today's smartphones pack more power than yesterday's computers. They're high-tech Swiss Army knives.

The original iPhone brought us a slick browser and an easy-to-use email client. But the myriad of different apps is what keeps us coming back. Maps help us figure out where we're going, Spotify lets us stream music, and Netflix gives us movies on the go.

That's not all, though. There are apps for almost anything you can imagine, including 200,000 for education. And in some countries, people don't even own computers or tablets , relying instead on their phones for all of their connectivity.

It created entirely new businesses

There would be no Uber without the App Store. Or Instagram , for that matter. Developers started making software tailored specifically for mobile devices, instead of first building for notebook and desktop computers. The "mobile first" push helped those companies gain millions of users.

The App Store also made it easier for developers to build and distribute their software, and simplified the process for iPhone owners to find software they wanted. And because of Apple's tight curation process -- it examines and approves each app listed in the App Store -- users knew the software they downloaded would be virus-free.

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"Since day one, the App Store has been by far the easiest way for developers to reach the most people with our apps," Marco Arment, developer of the Overcast podcasting app, said in an Apple press release. "It eliminated the friction and overhead of setting up our own distribution and payment systems, making development far more accessible to everyone and letting us focus on our true passion: making the best apps we can."

It took gaming mainstream

With the launch of the App Store, gaming was no longer just for devoted fans with pricey game consoles or high-end PC rigs. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on a console and another $50 on each new game, users instead can download games for a few bucks. Sometimes they pay nothing at all -- giving games away is part of a new business model.

Apple introduced in-app purchases in 2009. They let users pay as they go instead of spending more on a game up front. King's Candy Crush Saga, for instance, is free to download, but if you want more lives or bonus items, you'll have to shell out money later.

It turned mobile video into a key way to communicate

Whether it's Netflix, YouTube or FaceTime, video is a vital feature of today's smartphones.

From the very beginning, Apple knew how important video would be on its iPhones. The first model of the device came with a YouTube app, though Apple stopped preloading the app on its iPhones in 2012 after Google's Android software gained popularity. Other companies like HBO launched their services in the App Store.  

Apple's FaceTime, which debuted on the iPhone 4 in 2010, made it easy to actually see the people you're talking with. And numerous apps, including Instagram, have introduced new video features.

Originally published July 10 at 5:00 a.m. PT.
Updated at 7:06 a.m. PT:  Added Tim Cook's tweet.

Correction, 6:57 a.m. PT:  This story initially misstated the number of apps available on the Google Play store. It is 3.8 million.

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