John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Celebrating the App Store’s Fifth Anniversary With Paper Co-Creator Georg Petschnigg

When Apple debuted its iPhone App Store on March 6, 2008, the company did so without the flourish typical of its big product unveilings. It announced the storefront in a broader press release about its iPhone 2.0 software, giving it passing mention in the third paragraph, and a fuller description in the eighth. The App Store didn’t even make it into the release’s sub-headline.

Announcing the App Store that same day during an event at the company’s Cupertino headquarters, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was unusually restrained as he presented it. “We think this is pretty cool,” he said.

Turns out “pretty cool” was a hell of an understatement.

Today, on the fifth anniversary of its launch, the App Store, which debuted with 500 apps, now boasts a catalog of more than 900,000. It has driven 50 billion downloads and some $10 billion in payments to developers.

In other words, it has been a monstrous hit. Indeed, one could argue that it ranks among Apple’s most important and transformative products. Certainly, it has been that to a number of developers who have seen it vault their apps into mainstream success. Among them: FiftyThree, the New York-based company behind the popular iPad sketching app Paper.

Paper was featured as a milestone on Apple’s recent “5 Years of The App Store” poster. In the interview below, Georg Petschnigg, CEO of FiftyThree and one of the minds behind the app, shares his thoughts on Apple’s App Store — its past and its future.

GeorgPetschniggHow has Apple’s App Store transformed application development as a business?

The App Store dramatically lowered the barrier to entry for application developers, from billing, distribution, to supporting a worldwide launch. It helped some of the biggest pains in building an application business. It’s the smoothest distribution channel for commercial software ever. For FiftyThree, we did not have to hire a sales team, worry about billing or shipping shrink-wrapped CD-ROMs. We put all our resources and imagination into building the best tools for mobile creation.

What’s unique about the App Store is also the rate at which applications are updated, virtually eliminating the cost of maintaining legacy software versions. On the App Store, the vast majority of customers run the latest version of a product. Compare that with Microsoft Office, where the majority runs a version that is two, three years old. Again, this means developers can invest more energy into current software, rather than mitigating the past. The rate of improvement has dramatically increased.

What was your view of the App Store when it first launched? How has it changed in the ensuing years?

Its impact and importance was immediately felt. For context, in 2007, I was working at Microsoft. And that year, Office 2007, Vista and Windows Marketplace launched — all of them with different update and purchase mechanisms. On the Web, there was a vibrant shareware scene, but every application had its own way of charging users. On phones, people mainly lived with the apps that came with them. With the App Store, that all changed. It brought the ease of use of Amazon’s one-click shopping to software. The value proposition to developers and customers was clear: This is the easiest way to purchase and own software. For developers, it was a rallying cry to start a software business on some cool hardware. Five years later, it’s the dominating platform.

Where do you see the App Store five years from now? Where is the future growth in the app industry?

There is much more to do. While games and entertainment applications have been strong, the space for productivity applications is just being defined. Looking two to three years out, there will be a market for boutique business solutions (similar to what Visual Basic brought to Office). Finally, with the proliferation of tablets, we will see hardware accessories playing a bigger role. Tablets and phones are the platform, but to make them fit into your life, home, gym, school or place of business, people will customize them with hardware accessories.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik