App Store (iOS/iPadOS)

The App Store is a digital distribution platform, developed and maintained by Apple Inc., for mobile apps on its iOS & iPadOS operating systems. The store allows users to browse and download apps developed with Apple's iOS Software Development Kit. Apps can be downloaded on the iPhone smartphone, the iPod Touch handheld computer, or the iPad tablet computer, and some can be transferred to the Apple Watch smartwatch or 4th-generation or newer Apple TVs as extensions of iPhone apps.

The App Store was opened on July 10, 2008, with an initial 500 applications available. The number of apps peaked at around 2.2 million in 2017, but declined slightly over the next few years as Apple began a process to remove old apps that do not function as intended or that don't follow current app guidelines. As of 2020, the store features around 1.8 million apps.

While Apple touts the role of the app store in creating new jobs in the "app economy"[1] and claims to have paid over $155 billion to developers,[2] the App Store has also attracted criticism from developers and government regulators that it operates a monopoly and that Apple's 30% cut of revenues from the store is excessive.[3]

While originally developing iPhone prior to its unveiling in 2007, Apple's then-CEO Steve Jobs did not intend to let third-party developers build native apps for iOS, instead directing them to make web applications for the Safari web browser.[4] However, backlash from developers prompted the company to reconsider,[4] with Jobs announcing in October 2007 that Apple would have a software development kit available for developers by February 2008.[5][6] The SDK was released on March 6, 2008.[7][8]

The iPhone App Store opened on July 10, 2008.[9][10][11] On July 11, the iPhone 3G was released and came pre-loaded with support for App Store.[12][13] Initially apps could be free or paid, in 2009 Apple added the ability to add in-app purchases[14] which quickly became the dominant way to monetize apps, especially games.

After the success of Apple's App Store and the launch of similar services by its competitors, the term "app store" has been adopted to refer to any similar service for mobile devices.[15][16][17] However, Apple applied for a U.S. trademark on the term "App Store" in 2008,[18] which was tentatively approved in early 2011.[19] In June 2011, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton, who was presiding over Apple's case against Amazon, said she would "probably" deny Apple's motion to stop Amazon from using the "App Store" name.[20][21][22] In July, Apple was denied preliminary injunction against Amazon's Appstore by a federal judge.[23]

The term app has become a popular buzzword; in January 2011, app was awarded the honor of being 2010's "Word of the Year" by the American Dialect Society.[24][25] "App" has been used as shorthand for "application" since at least late 1970s,[26] and in product names since at least 2006, for example then-named Google Apps.[27]

Apple announced Mac App Store, a similar app distribution platform for its macOS personal computer operating system, in October 2010,[28][29] with the official launch taking place in January 2011 with the release of its 10.6.6 "Snow Leopard" update.[30][31]

In February 2013, Apple informed developers that they could begin using appstore.com for links to their apps.[32][33][34] In June at its developer conference, Apple announced an upcoming "Kids" section in App Store, a new section featuring apps categorized by age range, and the section was launched alongside the release of iOS 7 in September 2013.[35][36]

In 2016, multiple media outlets reported that apps had decreased significantly in popularity. Recode wrote that "The app boom is over",[37] an editorial in TechCrunch stated that "The air of hopelessness that surrounds the mobile app ecosystem is obvious and demoralizing",[38] and The Verge wrote that "the original App Store model of selling apps for a buck or two looks antiquated".[39] Issues included consumer "boredom",[39] a lack of app discoverability,[38] and, as stated by a report from 2014, a lack of new app downloads among smartphone users.[40]

In October 2016, in an effort to improve app discoverability, Apple rolled out the ability for developers to purchase advertising spots in App Store to users in the United States.[41] The ads, shown at the top of the search results,[42][43] are based strictly on relevant keywords, and are not used to create profiles on users.[44] Apple expanded search ads to the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand in April 2017, along with more configurable advertising settings for developers.[45][46] Search ads were expanded to Canada, Mexico and Switzerland in October 2017.[47] In December 2017, Apple revamped its search ads program to offer two distinctive versions; "Search Ads Basic" is a pay-per-install program aimed at smaller developers, in which they only pay when users actually install their app. Search Ads Basic also features an easier setup process and a restricted monthly budget. "Search Ads Advanced" is a new name given to the older method, in which developers have to pay whenever users tap on their apps in search results, along with unlimited monthly budgets. .[48][49]

In January 2017, reports surfaced that documentation for a new beta for the then-upcoming release of iOS 10.3 detailed that Apple would let developers respond to customer reviews in the App Store, marking a significant change from the previous limitation, which prevented developers from communicating with users.[50][51] The functionality was officially enabled on March 27, 2017 when iOS 10.3 was released to users.[52]

Apple also offered an iTunes Affiliate Program, which lets people refer others to apps and other iTunes content, along with in-app purchases, for a percentage of sales. The commission rate for in-app purchases was reduced from 7% to 2.5% in May 2017[53][54] and discontinued completely in 2018[55]

In September 2017, App Store received a major design overhaul with the release of iOS 11. The new design features a greater focus on editorial content and daily highlights, and introduces a "cleaner and more consistent and colorful look" similar to several of Apple's built-in iOS apps.[56][57][58]

Prior to September 2017, Apple offered a way for users to manage their iOS app purchases through the iTunes computer software. In September, version 12.7 of iTunes was released, removing the App Store section in the process.[59][60] However, the following month, iTunes 12.6.3 was also released, retaining the App Store, with 9to5Mac noting that the secondary release was positioned by Apple as "necessary for some businesses performing internal app deployments".[61][62]

In December 2017, Apple announced that developers could offer applications for pre-order, letting them make apps visible in the store between 2–90 days ahead of release.[63][64]

On January 4, 2018, Apple announced that the App Store had a record-breaking holiday season according to a new press release. During the week starting on Christmas Eve, a record number of customers made App Store purchases, spending more than $890 million in that seven-day period. On New Year's Day 2018 alone, customers made $300 million in purchases.[65]

In September 2019 Apple launched Apple Arcade, a subscription service for video games within the App Store.

In 2019 and 2020 Apple was frequently criticized by other companies such as Spotify,[66] AirBnB[67] and Hey[68] and regulators for potentially running the App Store as a monopoly and overcharging developers, and was the target of lawsuits and investigations in the EU and United States. A conflict between Epic Games, the creator of the Fortnite game and Apple led to the lawsuit Epic Games v. Apple. Additionally governments such as in China,[69] India[70] and Russia[71] increasingly required Apple to remove specific apps, with the threatened removal of some apps often becoming part of geopolitical feuds.[72]

The iOS SDK (Software Development Kit) allows for the development of mobile apps on iOS. It is a free download for users of Mac personal computers.[73] It is not available for Microsoft Windows PCs.[73] The SDK contains sets giving developers access to various functions and services of iOS devices, such as hardware and software attributes.[74] It also contains an iPhone simulator to mimic the look and feel of the device on the computer while developing.[74] New versions of the SDK accompany new versions of iOS.[75][76] In order to test applications, get technical support, and distribute apps through App Store, developers are required to subscribe to the Apple Developer Program.[73]

Combined with Xcode, the iOS SDK helps developers write iOS apps using officially supported programming languages, including Swift and Objective-C.[77] Other companies have also created tools that allow for the development of native iOS apps using their respective programming languages.[78][79]

To publish apps on App Store, developers must pay a $99 yearly fee for access to Apple's Developer Program.[80][81] Apple announced that, in the United States starting 2018, it will waive the fee for nonprofit organizations and governments.[82][83] Fee waivers have been since been extended to non-profits, educational organizations and governments in additional countries[84]

Developers have a few options for monetizing their applications. The "Free Model" enables free apps, increasing likelihood of engagement. The "Freemium Model" makes the app download free, but users are offered optional additional features in-app that require payments. The "Subscription Model" enables ongoing monetization through renewable transactions. The "Paid Model" makes the app itself a paid download and offers no additional features. Less frequently, the "Paymium Model" has both a paid app downloads and paid in-app content.[85]

In-app subscriptions were originally introduced for magazines, newspapers and music apps in February 2011, giving developers 70% of revenue earned and Apple 30%. Publishers could also sell digital subscriptions through their website, bypassing Apple's fees, but were not allowed to advertise their website alternative through the apps themselves.[86][87]

In an interview with The Verge in June 2016, Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, said that Apple had a "renewed focus and energy" on the App Store, and announced multiple significant changes, including advertisements in search results and a new app subscription model. The subscription model saw the firmly established 70/30 revenue split between developers and Apple change into a new 85/15 revenue split if a user stays subscribed to the developer's app for a year, and opens the possibility of subscriptions to all apps, not just select categories.[44][88]

App data and insights analyst company App Annie released a report in October 2016, announcing that China had overtaken the United States as Apple's biggest market in App Store revenue. In the third quarter of 2016, Chinese users spent $1.7 billion vs. approximately $1.5 billion by American users.[89][90]

In June 2017, Apple announced that App Store had generated over $70 billion in revenue for developers since its 2008 launch.[91][92] By 2020, this had increased to $155 billion.[2]

On July 10, 2008, Apple's then-CEO Steve Jobs told USA Today that App Store contained 500 third-party applications for the iPhone and the iPod Touch, and of these 25 percent were free.[11] Ten million applications were downloaded the first weekend.[93] By September, the number of available apps had increased to 3,000, with over 100 million downloads.[94]

App Store app availability has increased in line with downloads over time.

Over the years, the store has surpassed multiple major milestones, including 50,000,[95] 100,000,[96] 250,000,[97] 500,000,[98] 1 million,[99] and 2 million apps.[100] The billionth application was downloaded on April 24, 2009.[101]

The number of apps on the app store shrank for the first time in 2017 as Apple began to remove older apps which did not comply with current app guidelines and technologies.[102] As of 2020, it was estimated to house around 1.8 million apps.[103]

The iPad was released in April 2010,[150][151] with approximately 3,000 apps available.[152] By July 2011, 16 months after the release, there were over 100,000 apps available designed specifically for the device.[153]

Apple publishes a list on a yearly basis, giving credit to the apps with the highest number of downloads in the past year.

These are the most-downloaded iOS applications and the highest revenue generating iOS applications of all time from 2010 to 2018.[165]

Apple rates applications worldwide based on their content, and determines the age group for which each is appropriate. According to the iPhone OS 3.0 launch event, the iPhone will allow blocking of objectionable apps in the iPhone's settings. The following are the ratings that Apple has detailed:

Applications are subject to approval by Apple, as outlined in the SDK agreement, for basic reliability testing and other analysis. Applications may still be distributed "ad-hoc" if they are rejected, by the author manually submitting a request to Apple to license the application to individual iPhones, although Apple may withdraw the ability for authors to do this at a later date.

As of 2013, Apple employed mostly static analysis for their app review process, which means that dynamic code reassembly techniques could defeat the review process.[168][169]

In June 2017, Apple updated its App Store review guidelines to specify that app developers will no longer have the ability to use custom prompts for encouraging users to leave reviews for their apps.[170][171] With the release of iOS 11 in late 2017, Apple will also let developers choose whether to keep current app reviews when updating their apps or to reset.[172] Additionally, another update to App Store policies allows users to optionally "tip" content creators, by voluntarily sending them money.[173][174]

In November 2012, Boyfriend Maker, a dating sim game, was removed due to "reports of references to violent sexual acts and paedophilia" deemed inappropriate to Boyfriend Maker's age rating of 4+.[175] A revised version called Boyfriend Plus was approved by Apple in April 2013.[176]

In March 2013, HiddenApps was approved and appeared in App Store. The app provided access to developer diagnostic menus, allowed for stock apps to be hidden, and enabled an opt-out feature for iAds, Apple's developer-driven advertisement system. The app was removed shortly afterwards for violating guidelines.[177][178]

In April 2013, Apple removed AppGratis, a then-successful app store market that promoted paid apps by offering one for free each day.[179] Apple told All Things Digital that the app violated two of its developer agreement clauses, including "Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected" and "Apps cannot use Push Notifications to send advertising, promotions, or direct marketing of any kind".[180] Apple did, however, tell the developers they were "welcome to resubmit" after changing the app, though there was "not much hope that it could survive in anything like its current incarnation".[181]

In November 2014, Apple removed the marijuana social networking app MassRoots, with the reason given that it "encourage[d] excessive consumption of alcohol or illegal substances.”[182] In February 2015, MassRoots was reintroduced into the store after Apple changed its enforcement guidelines to allow cannabis social apps in the 23 states where it is legal.[183]

In September 2015, it was discovered that "hundreds" of apps submitted and approved on App Store were using XcodeGhost, a malicious version of the Xcode development software. The issues prompted Apple to remove infected apps from the store and issue a statement that it was "working with the developers to make sure they’re using the proper version of Xcode".[184][185][186] A security firm later published lists of infected apps, including a China-only version of Angry Birds 2, CamCard, Lifesmart, TinyDeal.com, and WeChat.[187][188] In the aftermath, Apple stated that it would make Xcode faster to download in certain regions outside the United States,[189] and contacted all developers to ensure they only download the code from the Mac App Store or Apple's website, and provided a code signature for developers to test if they are running a tampered version of Xcode.[190]

In June 2017, a scamming trend was discovered on the store, in which developers make apps built on non-existent services, attach in-app purchase subscriptions to the opening dialogue, then buy App Store search advertising space to get the app into the higher rankings. In one instance, an app by the name of "Mobile protection :Clean & Security VPN" would require payments of $99.99 for a seven-day subscription after a short trial. Apple has not yet responded to the issues.[191][192]

In addition, Apple has removed software licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) from App Store, due to text in Apple's Terms of Service agreement imposing digital rights management and proprietary legal terms incompatible with the terms of the GPL.[193][194]

On September 1, 2016, Apple announced that starting September 7, it would be removing old apps that do not function as intended or that don't follow current review guidelines. Developers will be warned and given 30 days to update their apps, but apps that crash on startup will be removed immediately. Additionally, the app names registered by developers cannot exceed 50 characters, in an attempt to stop developers from inserting long descriptions or irrelevant terms in app names to improve the app's ranking in App Store search results.[195][196] App intelligence firm Sensor Tower revealed in November 2016 that Apple, as promised from its September announcement of removing old apps, had removed 47,300 apps from App Store in October 2016, a 238 percent increase of its prior number of average monthly app removals.[197][198]

In June 2017, TechCrunch reported that Apple had turned its app removal focus on apps copying functionality from other, popular apps. An example cited included "if a popular game like Flappy Bird or Red Ball hits the charts, there will be hundreds or thousands of clones within weeks that attempt to capitalize on the initial wave of popularity". The report also noted removals of music apps serving pirated tracks. The publication wrote that, since the initial September app removals began, Apple had removed "multiple hundreds of thousands" of apps.[199][200]

In December 2017, a new report from TechCrunch stated that Apple had begun enforcing new restrictions on the use of "commercialized template or app generation services". Originally introduced as part of Apple's 2017 developer conference, new App Store guidelines allow the company to ban apps making use of templates or commercial app services. This affected many small businesses, with TechCrunch's report citing that "local retailers, restaurants, small fitness studios, nonprofits, churches and other organizations" benefit from using templates or app services due to minimal costs. Developers had received notice from Apple with a January 1, 2018 deadline to change their respective apps. The news caught the attention of Congress, with Congressman Ted Lieu writing a letter to Apple at the beginning of December, asking it to reconsider, writing that "It is my understanding that many small businesses, research organizations, and religious institutions rely on template apps when they do not possess the resources to develop apps in-house", and that the new rules cast "too wide a net", specifically "invalidating apps from longstanding and legitimate developers who pose no threat to the App Store’s integrity". Additionally, the news of stricter enforcement caused significant criticism from app development firms; one company told TechCrunch that it chose to close down its business following the news, saying that "The 4.2.6 [rule enforcement] was just a final drop that made us move on a bit faster with that decision [to close]", and another company told the publication that "There was no way in June [when the guidelines changed] that we would have said, ‘that’s going to target our apps' ... Apple had told us you aren’t being targeted by this from a quality standpoint. So being hit now under the umbrella of spam is shocking to every quality developer out there and all the good actors". Furthermore, the latter company stated that "there’s only so much you can do with apps that perform the same utility – ordering food". A third company said that "Rule 4.2.6 is a concrete illustration of the danger of Apple’s dominant position", and a fourth said that "They’ve wiped out pretty much an entire industry. Not just DIY tools like AppMakr, but also development suites like Titanium".[201][202] Towards the end of the year, Apple updated the guideline to clarify that companies and organizations are allowed to use template apps, but only as long as they directly publish their app on their own; it remained a violation of the rule for commercial app services to publish apps for the respective clients.[83][203]

In January 2017, Apple complied with a request from the Chinese government to remove the Chinese version of The New York Times' app. This followed the government's efforts in 2012 to block the Times' website after stories of hidden wealth among family members of then-leader of China, Wen Jiabao, were published.[204] In a statement, an Apple spokesperson told the media that "we have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations", though would not specify which regulations, and added that "As a result the app must be taken down off the China app store. When this situation changes the app store will once again offer the New York Times app for download in China".[205] The following July, it was reported that Apple had begun to remove listings in China for apps that circumvent government Internet censorship policies and new laws restricting virtual private network (VPN) services.[206][207] Apple issued a statement, explaining that the app removals were a result of developers not complying with new laws in China requiring a government license for businesses offering VPNs, and that "These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business".[208][209] In an earnings call the following month, Cook elaborated on the recent news, explainining that "We would obviously rather not remove the apps, but like we do in other countries, we follow the law wherever we do business".[210] Besides VPN services, a number of Internet calling apps, including Microsoft's Skype, were also removed from the Chinese App Store in 2017, with Apple telling The New York Times that, similar to the VPN apps, these new apps also violated local law. Microsoft explained to BBC News that its Skype app had been "temporarily removed" and that it was "working to reinstate the app as soon as possible",[211] though many news outlets reported on the Chinese government's increased efforts and pressure to crack down on Internet freedom.[212][213][214][215]

Following Apple CEO Tim Cook's appearance at China's World Internet Conference in December 2017, in which Cook stated that Apple and China share a vision of "developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits", free speech and human rights activists criticized Cook and the company. Maya Wang at Human Rights Watch told The Washington Post that "Cook’s appearance lends credibility to a state that aggressively censors the internet, throws people in jail for being critical about social ills, and is building artificial intelligence systems that monitors everyone and targets dissent. ... The version of cyberspace the Chinese government is building is a decidedly dystopian one, and I don’t think anyone would want to share in this ‘common future.’ Apple should have spoken out against it, not endorsed it."[216] U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy told CNBC that "American tech companies have become leading champions of free expression. But that commitment should not end at our borders. ... Global leaders in innovation, like Apple, have both an opportunity and a moral obligation to promote free expression and other basic human rights in countries that routinely deny these rights."[217][218]

Cook told Reuters that "My hope over time is that some of the things, the couple of things that’s been pulled, come back. I have great hope on that and great optimism on that".[219] However, TechCrunch's Jon Russell criticized this line of thinking, writing that "Firstly, Apple didn’t just remove a 'couple of things' from the reach of China-based users", but rather "a couple of hundred" apps, acknowledging that "even that is under counting". Furthermore, Russell listed censorship efforts by the Chinese government, including VPN bans and restrictions on live video and messaging apps, and wrote that "Apple had little choice but to follow Beijing’s line in order to continue to do business in the lucrative Chinese market, but statements like Cook’s today are dangerous because they massively underplay the severity of the situation".[220] Florida Senator Marco Rubio also criticized Cook's appearance at the World Internet Conference, describing the situation as "here’s an example of a company, in my view, so desperate to have access to the Chinese market place that they are willing to follow the laws of that country even if those laws run counter to what those companies’ own standards are supposed to be".[221] In August 2018, as a result of Chinese regulations, 25,000 illegal apps were pulled down by Apple from the App Store in China.[222][223]

In October 2019, Apple rejected,[224] approved,[225] and finally removed[226][227] an app used by participants in the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests.

In November 2019, Apple removed all applications related to vaping, citing warning from health experts.[228]

Since at early as 2017, Tim Sweeney had questioned the need for digital storefronts like Valve's Steam, Apple's iOS App Store, and Google Play, to take a 30% revenue sharing cut, and argued that when accounting for current rates of content distribution and other factors needed, a revenue cut of 8% should be sufficient to run any digital storefront profitably.[229]

On August 13, 2020, Epic Games updated Fortnite across all platforms, including the iOS version, to reduce the price of "V-Bucks" (the in-game currency) by 20% if they purchased directly from Epic. For iOS users, if they purchased through the Apple storefront, they were not given this discount, as Epic said they could not extend the discount due to the 30% revenue cut taken by Apple.[230] Within hours, Apple had removed Fortnite from their storefronts stating the means of bypassing their payment systems violated the terms of service.[231] Epic immediately filed separate lawsuits against Apple and Google for antitrust and anticompetitive behavior in the .[232] Epic did not seek monetary damages in either case but instead was "seeking injunctive relief to allow fair competition in these two key markets that directly affect hundreds of millions of consumers and tens of thousands, if not more, of third-party app developers."[233] In comments on social media the next day, Sweeney said that they undertook the actions as "we're fighting for the freedom of people who bought smartphones to install apps from sources of their choosing, the freedom for creators of apps to distribute them as they choose, and the freedom of both groups to do business directly. The primary opposing argument is: 'Smartphone markers can do whatever they want.' This as an awful notion. We all have rights, and we need to fight to defend our rights against whoever would deny them."[234]

Apple responded to the lawsuit that it would terminate Epic's developer accounts by August 28, 2020, leading Epic to file a motion for a preliminary injunction to force Apple to return Fortnite to the App Store and prevent them from terminating Epic's developer accounts, as the latter action would leave Epic unable to update the Unreal Engine for any changes to iOS or macOS and leave developers that relied on Unreal at risk.[235][236] The court granted the preliminary injunction against Apple from terminating the developer accounts as Epic had shown "potential significant damage to both the Unreal Engine platform itself, and to the gaming industry generally", but refused to grant the injunction related to Fortnite as "The current predicament appears of [Epic's] own making."[237]