July 20, 2007: Just a month after the original iPhone goes on sale, the first third-party app gets compiled and launched for the new platform.
Called “Hello World,” the software serves more as a proof of concept than a serious tool. But it demonstrates that third-party apps will become a cornerstone of the new iPhone economy. It’s a shame Apple doesn’t get the memo.
Hello, World! programs and the Hello World app
“Hello, World!” programs are simple demos used to show off a new programming language or exhibit the possibilities of a new platform. The very first “hello, world” (minus the capital letters) program reportedly came from a 1974 internal memo from Bell Laboratories about coding using the lab’s then-new C programming language.
The Hello World app from 2007, which simply flashed words on a screen, gave many users their first peek at the iPhone’s future.
It also seemed like a nice nod to the past. It recalled a tradition born of the original Macintosh 128K demonstration two decades before. When Apple co-founder Steve Jobs debuted the Mac in January 1984, he showcased a text-to-speech ability that let the computer say, “Hello, I’m Macintosh.” And when Jobs returned to Apple in the late 1990s, the slogan chosen for the breakthrough iMac G3 was “Hello (Again).”
Given the iPhone’s focus on connectivity and communication, expanding “Hello” to “Hello World” seemed logical.
Hello World and the rise of native iPhone apps
A hacker going by the name Nightwatch developed the Hello World program that showed off the iPhone’s potential. The simple demo became big news at the time because Apple had not launched an official App Store, released an iPhone software development kit or even bothered to say whether these moves were in the cards.
Inside Apple, a debate raged about the iPhone. Should it become a generative platform, with third-party apps, or remain locked-down? The main defender of the second option was Jobs. He feared that letting developers put native apps on the iPhone would sound the death knell for quality.
Jobs didn’t back down until early 2008. A few months after that, Apple opened the doors of its iOS App Store.
The world of janky web apps was coming to an end. Real native apps were on their way!
The App Store: A stroke of genius for Apple
The decision proved brilliant. In 2020, Apple estimated the “app economy” generated $643 billion in business. And Apple says the iPhone app economy led to more than 2.2 million U.S. jobs in 2021. And by 2022, App Store developers generated $1.1 trillion in total billings and sales.
In fact, the App Store has proven so successful that it’s drawn the attention of antitrust regulators in the United States and around the world. Europe’s Digital Markets Act, passed in 2022, looks likely to bring sweeping changes to the App Store (and thus the iPhone itself). The future could bring side-loaded apps and alternative app stores, among other things.