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The Not so Short History of Apps

As we approach the App Store’s 6th birthday, let’s take a moment to remember a ‘not so short history’ of mobile app development. In 1983, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X was launched with a simple contacts app included in the operating system. Recalled fondly as “The Brick”, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X was big, heavy, expensive, and allowed the user about 30 minutes of call time. According to the Financial Times, the average mobile app developer is thirty-five years old. So, aged four at the time of the Dynatak’s release, your average mobile app developer would have would have struggled to lift the  first mobile app, let alone remember it.

Unlike today, all software on early mobile phones was developed in-house. When Nokia added the 70’s video game Snake on it’s earliest phones, people began to see phones as more than just communication devices. Manufacturers added more games, mobile prices dropped, batteries improved, reception areas expanded, and mobile phones became more ubiquitous.

Customers  began to ask for more features, but manufacturers didn’t have the motivation or resources to meet customer demand for more apps. Manufacturers turned to the Internet, but the Internet was developing at a different rate and didn’t scale well for mobile. The Internet was in colour with text, images and multimedia. Web pages were using Javascript, Flash and worked best on 800-600px screens. Early mobile phones had monochrome, low-res screens, and had limited storage and processing power. Bandwidth, transmission and data processing were all problematic.

In October 1999, the Nokia 7110 was the first phone released with a Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) browser. WAP was a stripped down version of HTTP which meant that memory and bandwidth were no longer a problem. The idea was that WAP sites could provide pages for mobile users that were much simpler than www pages. WAP allowed manufacturers to ship phones with WAP browsers and leave it up to site owners to write web pages that were WAP compatible. WAP browsers gave users access to email, stock market prices, sports results,news headlines and music downloads. Users could purchase simple wallpaper and ringtones to customise their phones, but overall WAP apps were difficult to commercialise. Against the development of handheld video games in the late nineties, WAP was a slow, frustrating experience and users demanded more.

As desktop application developers started working on PDA’s and other embedded devices, mobile manufacturers realised that to retain their market, they’d have to start opening up to other developers. More apps would make their phones more attractive to customers. The removal of protectionist policies on mobile design allowed a variety of different platforms to emerge. App developers now had the freedom to build powerful mobile apps without restriction and manufacturers were able to provide value-added content  in a manageable and usable way. This symbiotic relationship worked for users too, who ended up with more choice and functionality. As we entered the new millennium, mobile content and applications underwent a rapid evolution. The rest, as they say, is history.

  • 10 July 2008: Apple launched the App Store with 500 apps
  • 22 Oct 2008: Android market went live
  • 1 April 2009 Blackberry App World launched
  • 23 April 2009: 1 billionth iPhone app downloaded
  • 26 May 2009: Ovi Store launched
  • 30 July 2010: Blackberry App World reached 1 million apps per day
  • 23 June 2011: Ovi Store reached 6 million downloads per day
  • 31 Dec 2012: 20 billion apps were downloaded at App Store in 2012


Today in 2014, apps are everywhere and are an important part of everyday life. And according to SocialTimes, the average iPhone user spends $80 per month on apps, meaning that the app movement is not likely to slow down anytime in the near future.

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