What does the Apple App Store have in common with Hobbits of the Shire in J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings? Both celebrate their birthdays by giving away presents instead of getting them.

This week marks the App Store’s 5th birthday. And to celebrate the big day, the store is giving away some of its most popular apps, including among them, Infinity Blades II and Tiny Wings. Some more specialized popular apps are also going for free, such as Traktor DJ.

“A Remarkably Prolific Five Years”

Apple and the App Store have plenty to celebrate, and they can afford the giveaways: The App Store has done its part to make Apple one of the most profitable companies of all time. It has also more than its share to shape the mobile ecosystem. Even the App Store’s rivals, such as Google Play, might celebrate the launch of such a successful business model.

In classic close-to-the-vest Apple style, the giveaway was launched without any announcement specifically tying it to the App Store’s 5th birthday. Thus Don Reisinger reported the freebies at CNET while saying that it “remains to be seen” whether it had anything to do with the App Store anniversary.

But a few hours later, Buster Heine reported at the Cult of Mac blog that the freebies were indeed a birthday celebration. He quoted an Apple announcement hailing “a remarkably prolific five years.” Apple also published an App Store time line. As the announcement notes, when the App Store opened on July 10, 2008, it had 500 apps available. Now it has upwards of 900,000 apps.

Creating an Ecosystem

The Apple App Store’s 5th birthday does not just mark one outlet’s success story: It is also the anniversary of an entire ecosystem. As much as the iPhone itself, the App Store has shaped the way we use and think about mobile devices.

It is hard to remember now, but back in 2008 there were real questions about the future of the mobile web. How would people use smartphones, other than as fancier new cellphones? Would users really want to go online while on the go? What would they actually do if they did go online?

For businesses, another question lurked: Would users be willing to pay for mobile applications? The wired Internet, after all, was stubbornly resistant to paying even low prices for content of any sort.

The App Store has answered all these questions. Mobile apps are a different beast from PC software packages – and users, it turns out, are willing to pay a few bucks for mobile apps, which in turn has encouraged developers to turn out hundreds of thousands of them.

The App Store’s birthday has not yet prompted online speculation about what comes next. Competition will probably stiffen as Android continues to evolve. And other iOS rivals, such as Windows Phone, may establish themselves. But for now, the App Store remains pretty much at the center of the mobile world.


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