This year Apple is celebrating five years since the launch of its App Store. In these five years, an astonishing 50 billion apps were downloaded and used on Apple devices – this has generated a total revenue of $14.3bn, of which 70 per cent was paid out to developers.

Apple CEO Tim Cook described the achievement as “truly staggering” and, perhaps with a bit of gloating thrown in, said that the App Store fundamentally “changed the world”.

Apple launched the App Store on July 10, 2008, just a day before the iPhone 3G was made available to the public. At the time, only 500 apps were available and most were developed in-house.

Five years later, you can download more than one million apps – that’s no mean feat, considering that Apple uses stringent criteria including usability and reliability before allowing developers to upload applications or games on the App Store.

Apple also ensures that absolutely no adult material makes it on the virtual store after the late Steve Jobs, during the iPhone launch, proudly declared “We do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone,” before adding: “Folks who want porn can buy an Android phone.” Admittedly, this rule has been bent a couple of times and softcore publications such as Playboy are now allowed to sell their material through the App Store.

Apple’s greatest achievement is that five years later, the App Store hasn’t run out of steam – rather, it’s stronger than ever before. It is estimated that an average of 800 apps are downloaded every second. The most important app of the past five years was downloaded by 21-year-old Brandon Ashmore from Ohio, the US, who clicked on the 50 billionth application from the App Store – he became an overnight celebrity and won a $10,000 download token from Apple. Brandon said that $10,000 is more than he can ever spend on apps in a lifetime – we wouldn’t bet on that.

Apple’s greatest achievement is that five years later, the App Store hasn’t run out of steam

One primary factor to Apple’s achievement is the level of control it exerts on the App Store. Even though Apple presents the App Store as one global product, in reality country restrictions make the App Store an individual experience depending on the country you reside in. For instance, due to an online casino ban, Apple doesn’t allow casino games to be downloaded in the US.

Of course, there are ways and means to go around this, but Apple has a second line of defence – when users try and register their account in another country, Apple can identify their real location using the device’s geolocation and prevents the user from downloading anything. This raised a number of questions regarding privacy.

There have also been other controversies. When Apple banned a cartoon app called NewsToons, saying that comics ridiculed public figures, a media frenzy ensued and Apple had to reinstate the app. In April 2009, Apple approved a game called Baby-Shaker – users were invited to shake their phone until the image of a cartoon baby dying showed up on screen. Apple later apologised and removed this app. Perhaps the most controversial case happened in August 2012 when an app called Drone Strike Alert was removed. This application sent a message to users showing real time updates of American air drone attacks on countries such as Afghanistan and information about the casualties, civilian or military. Undisclosed sources said that the American government itself pressured Apple to remove this app.

But more than the amount of downloads or revenue, the prime indicator of the App Store’s success is that it has popularised the term ‘app’. In 2008, Apple applied for the trademark on the term ‘App Store’, but did not receive approval until 2011. In the meantime, other companies launched their own versions – Google launched the PlayStore for Android devices, while Amazon launched its own App Store, prompting Apple to immediately sue Amazon over the use of their trademarked name. On the other hand, Google is suing Apple because it says it was the first to use the term ‘app’ in 2006. Both cases are still ongoing.

Apple is right in celebrating the App Store’s anniversary. However, there is an uninvited guest at the party. Because although Apple users boast their loyalty to Apple products, in the recently released data showing the most successful apps ever created, Google features twice in the top five. Microsoft’s Skype is also in the top five. But then, competition has always fuelled Apple to grow stronger.

Ian Vella is a search engine optimisation enthusiast and creator of

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