June 26, 2008: Apple sends an email to developers, calling for software that will be distributed in the forthcoming App Store.
Devs around the world greet the news with excitement. They hurry to submit their apps and get in on the looming App Store gold rush. Many rake in small fortunes when the App Store goes live less than a month later.
Apple opens App Store to third-party devs
The news that Apple would accept apps to sell in its very own App Store generated a massive amount of enthusiasm. Apple unveiled the new venture on March 6, 2008, when the company released its iPhone software development kit. The SDK gave devs the tools to start building native apps for the iPhone.
Inside Apple, execs contested this decision hotly. Apple CEO Steve Jobs initially opposed the App Store. He worried it would result in the iPhone being flooded with low-grade, third-party software over which Apple would have little control.
Luckily, Apple VP Phil Schiller and Apple board member Art Levinson ultimately persuaded Jobs to change his mind. They wanted to make the iPhone a generative platform rather than a locked-down one.
It proved a great move. Instead of relying on one or two “killer apps” that would make the iPhone a must-have device, as tools like VisiCalc had done for the Apple II, an open App Store meant that every iPhone user could discover their own killer app.
Applications for the iPhone had to be built on Macs, running a new version of Apple’s integrated development environment, Xcode. Apple provided the software so developers could design iPhone-friendly interfaces, monitor iPhone memory usage, and even simulate the iPhone’s touch-based interactions on their Macs.
The starting pistol for the App Store gold rush
On June 26, Apple fired its starting pistol by announcing that it was now accepting apps for scrutiny. The email sent to devs who had paid the $99 annual fee read:
“Get started by downloading the eighth beta version of the iPhone OS, available in the iPhone Dev Center. With this new version of iPhone OS you can conduct final testing and prepare your application for submission to the App Store. Apple is expected to launch the final iPhone 2.0 Firmware and App Store on July 11th alongside the iPhone 3G release. Developers may submit their applications now for availability in the App Store. Apple must approve all applications that are submitted.”
Meeting some of Apple’s more arbitrary respectability guidelines took many developers a long time to get to grips with. For those who did, however, rewards could be generous.
App Store opens in July 2008 with 500 apps
By the time the App Store opened in July 2008, users could download 500 third-party apps. About 25% of them cost users absolutely nothing. Within the App Store’s first 72 hours of opening, iPhone owners racked up a massive 10 million downloads.
The App Store opened up a whole new way of distributing software. It also quickly became an important revenue stream for Apple. The company said the App Store ecosystem enabled $1.1 trillion in billings and sales in 2022. Today, Apple’s tight control of the incredibly lucrative App Store is drawing scrutiny from antitrust regulators in the United States and abroad, even as the company encourages coders to create apps for the upcoming Vision Pro headset.
No wonder co-founder Steve Wozniak called the App Store Apple’s most important invention. For a company that made the Apple II, Mac, iPod, iPhone and Apple Watch, that’s high praise indeed.
Were you among the first wave of App Store developers? What was the first app you remember downloading? Leave your comments below.