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Apps ate your lunch, right out of your hand

“Nobody knows which was the first app to be downloaded from Apple’s iPhone App Store on 11 July 2008 – but the total is expected to pass 50bn on Wednesday, marking a huge new business created by the explosive spread of smartphones over the past five years.”

Charles Arthur, The Guardian (15 May, 2013)

As I begin to write this column today, 49,991,000,000 apps have been downloaded from Apple’s App Store. Very shortly, the 50 billionth app will be downloaded, and Apple has promised that lucky customer a US$ 10,000 gift card. Google is not far behind, with 48 billion apps downloaded from its own rival store. That’s nearly 100 billion apps from the two major players.

Think about that a little. Just five short years ago, apps didn’t even exist. Now, nearly 15 have been downloaded for every man, woman and child on the planet. Just counting to 50 billion would take you 1,600 years. Consider also the acceleration: It took nine months for Apple to reach one billion downloads, and four years to hit the 25 billion mark. The last 25 billion have come in just the past year.

This has been a huge business, with Apple having paid out $9 billion to developers. When you remember that much of the Western world has been in severe recession over this period, the achievement is even more remarkable.

But wait: is this new business, new money? The reason you should pay attention is that these apps are killing off traditional businesses at an astonishing rate. What are the most popular apps? Games; social-media clients; productivity suites; photo sharing platforms; messaging systems; diet guides; news readers; maps; music streaming products; cloud storage; alarm clocks; reference works; book readers; weather predictors; travel guides.

In other words, if you were a publisher, software developer, printer, game designer, newspaper, music seller etc, and you didn’t migrate your business to the apps universe, you have had your lunch eaten, right out of the hand you were holding it in. Think about the number of things you now do on your smartphone that you used to do in other ways, and you will get the point.

That’s what apps did: they drew on data already available on the Web, and provided it in a very handy, portable, easy-to-use format on the device that pretty much everyone who can afford it now carries around: the smartphone. And later, on the smartphone’s bigger cousin, the tablet.

In so doing, they disrupted any number of industries and products, from newspapers and magazines to maps and music. As they mature, apps will start to hit many others: banks and payment systems; knowledge-sharing platforms; printers, scanners and card readers; data storage; advertising agencies, travel agents and middlemen in general. Your business, too, will not remain unscathed.

Yet in 2007 apps simply didn’t exist.

As this column tries to point out repeatedly, business and technology is changing faster than any of us can predict or understand. Even Apple’s legendary founder, Steve Jobs, didn’t see the looming opportunity of apps after launching the iPhone; he reportedly had to be persuaded by other executives to allow third-party developers to maximize the potential of his new touch-screen device.

Today, apps are simply an essential part of most people’s lives. It is taken for granted that apps are the way in which we communicate, consume news, socialize, work and entertain ourselves. But never forget how quickly it’s all happened, and how fast the world can change for your business. You can’t afford to be oblivious to the smart device and its ever proliferating software

To remind you of the speed, I can confirm that as I end writing today’s column, Apple’s counter is showing 49,994,000,000 apps. Another 3 million have been downloaded in under an hour.

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