Earlier today, Apple announced that iPhone and iPod touch users have now downloaded over 1.5 billion applications. According to Apple, there are now also over 100,000 developers in the iPhone Developer Program and over 65,000 apps in the store. The number of actual iPhone developers might be a bit lower than Apple reports, as a lot of people only joined the paid version of the program to get their hands on the betas of the iPhone 3.0 OS, but there can be little doubt that the App store is a runaway success, both for Apple and developers. Given this huge success of the App Store, it is worth thinking about the factors that contributed to the App Store's success and what Apple could do to make the store even better.

Some other platforms had something similar to the App Store long before Apple, and others are still trying to copy the App Store, but Apple has clearly set the bar very high. Even though a number of companies are trying to emulate the App Store model now, we think that a number of factors contributed to Apple's massive success. Some of these may be very hard to replicate for other companies.

Here are a few of the them:

  • pump was primed: with the iPod, Apple had already familiarized millions of people with iTunes and the idea of buying music and videos content for their devices on iTunes - moving to applications was a natural next step
  • it's not just the iPhone: by creating an ecosystem that both iPhone and iPod touch users can tap into, Apple greatly expanded the reach of its app store. Apple says it has shipped over 40 million devices with the iPhone OS on it. This means that, on average, iPhone and iPod touch owners have downloaded an average of around 38 apps per person, which is not an outrageously high number.
  • pricing: allowing free apps into the store and distributing them for free was a very smart move by Apple. This allows new users to become comfortable with the App Store concept and gives developers a chance to showcase free versions of their paid applications and games. Also, by allowing developers to charge as little as $0.99 for an app, developers can reach a lot of users while still getting paid for their work.
  • international reach: there are App Stores in 77 countries and very little content is restricted to specific countries
  • games: almost every application in the list of top paid and free apps (iTunes link) is a game. The iPhone (and the iPhone 3GS even more so) is a great mobile gaming machine and given that most games are quite cheap, who can really say no to the Moron Test or Real Soccer 2009 (which at $0.99 is quite a bargain)?
  • low barrier of entry for developers: you don't have to pay to start developing (assuming you have access to a modern Mac), and if you are already a Mac developer, developing for the iPhone OS is relatively easy, as you use the same tools as before.
  • a chance to make money: of course, it also helps that Apple provides a central hub for all the apps and at least gives developers the impression that even small development houses or a guy in his parents' basement is playing on the same level as Electronic Arts or Gameloft.

Some things we would like Apple to change/add:

  • improve the approval process: it's no secret that the process to get an application into the store is rather arcane and that Apple regularly refuses to let apps into the store for seemingly random reasons.
  • "remember this iPhone app" - our own Marshall Kirkpatrick would really like to see Apple add a way to mark apps in the store so that he could buy them later. This could look something like wish lists on Amazon or Newegg
  • recommendations: with 65,000 apps, it's very hard to keep an eye on what's new in the store. As of now, Apple hasn't introduced a 'Genius' feature for the App Store and there isn't even an Amazon-like function "others who bought this app also liked these apps" feature
  • mark apps you already bought

Can you think of other reasons why the App Store became such a success? And what would you like Apple to add to it or improve? Let us know in the comments.