It is a monumental year for the two mobile giants of the industry: Apple and Google. The App Store celebrated its tenth anniversary in July while the Android Market (before being merged into what is now Google Play in 2012) reaches the 10 year milestone today, October 22. In 2011, smartphone ownership accounted for only 35% of the US adult population, but today that number stands out at about 77%. The rise of smartphone devices stems from their multipurpose-use and the development of the mobile application market.
Both of these marketplaces opened the doors for developers to easily host their applications, flooding the market with a plethora of apps and providing opportunities for swaths of developers. We can trace the rise in mobile use to these opportunities because more apps shifted mobile functionality to become more like computers. The rise of tablets soon followed suit, and by incorporating Bluetooth devices such as a keyboard or stylus, they have become considerable alternatives to computers, sometimes being a more affordable option. Computers even started adding tablet-like functions, such as the Lenovo Yoga or Microsoft Surface Pro.
The advent of these marketplaces has changed the way we connect with the world. Navigation apps are equipped with GPS making it easier to get around the city or explore on a vacation, mobile banking allows balances to be checked remotely, and your favorite photos can be saved via cloud and edited instantly. Developers now make games specifically for mobile or re-release popular console and PC favorites, and millions of books are instantly accessible to read or via audio.
The beginning of smartphones
2008 was the launch point for both the App Store and the Android Market (now Google Play). Apple had the advantage over Google immediately as it had established a similar customer base from iTunes. The advantage became clear as it took a little over a year for Apple to gain 1 billion downloads. Meanwhile, in 2009, Google added the option for paid apps. For both marketplaces, “Gaming” was one of the most popular features at launch.
The evolution of the marketplaces
Apple launched the iPad in 2010 and the Mac App Store in 2011 and hit 25 billion downloads in 2012. 2013 was the release of iOS 7 and an overhaul in the visual interface of Apple products. A few months later, the App Store would hit 1 million apps at its iPad event in fall of 2013 and add a “Kids” section to the store.
By the end of 2011, Google reached the 10 billion mark in app downloads and Apple was working its way past 15 billion. Still playing catch up, Google launched Google Music in November of 2011 and by 2012 had combined its other marketplaces (Android Market with Google Music, Google eBookstore, and Google Movies) and started selling Google Play Gift Cards. Most importantly, Google was the first to announce hitting the 1 million apps milestone in July of 2013, proof it had started outpacing the App Store.
Redesigns and hardware integration
2014 saw the launch of Google Cardboard, an affordable way to experience VR, and helped push more VR apps onto both marketplaces. Google moved their physical products out of the Google Play Store in 2015, redesigned the store the same year, and streamlined their various store icons (Google Play Music, Google Play Books, etc.) in 2016 while adding a trending section for apps.
For Apple, 2014 was the release of Apple Pay and TestFlight (easier app beta testing) would arrive along with a change in how “Free” apps were displayed, now saying “Get” to suggest there were in app purchases i.e. buy inside the app for a full version. Not to be outdone, Apple Watch apps arrived with the Apple Watch launch in 2015, and the end of the year saw third party apps allowed on the Apple TV. In 2016, the App Store gained Messenger specific apps and developers could start advertising with search ads.
2016 was notable for everyone with the arrival of Pokémon Go! The global phenomenon saw people of all ages, running across their local areas to find the best Pokémon. It also sparked significant interest in augmented reality as the first app to get popular with using the technology. At the same time, both companies committed to cleaning up their stores, taking a harder look at the apps already available and future additions.
Hitting 10-year marks
As 2017 arrived, Google reorganized its security features with Google Play Protect, making them more visible, and redesigned Google Play Music along with Google Play Movies & TV. Apple redesigned their app store and released ARKit coupled with the option of pre-ordering apps at the end of the year.
Today, Google and Apple continue to innovate and develop new hardware to keep up with their technology. However, Google has dominated the global app market with 330 billion downloads compared to Apple’s 170 billion, capturing 70% of the market. That being said, the App Store has 66% of the consumer spend market, despite only a 30% global market share. As Google Play turns 10 today, it will be interesting to see how Apple responds to this staggering outpacing, but Apple’s style has always been less about numbers and more focused on human centered design. Nothing embodies this more than their recent addition of an ECG into the Apple Watch 4, a feature which will go live by the end of 2018.
A decade of mobile apps has shaped business and lifestyle irrevocably. As advancements have happened faster and faster over the years, it’s anyone’s guess as to what the landscape will look like another 10 years in the future.