As you may have read by now, Apple decided to grace The New York Times with its presence for a long post about the App Store this weekend. There’s really isn’t anything new in the story (though a side story does reveal what apps Apple SVP of Product Marketing Phil Schiller actually uses), but there are a handful of quotes from Apple executives about the store. At one point, Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president for iTunes, compares the App Store to a rocket ship and notes, “We’ve been able to leverage a lot of our iTunes technology for the App Store.“
That speaks to what I think is an obvious, but largely overlooked part of the success of the App Store. While Apple’s two sexy devices (the iPhone and the iPod touch), make apps very simple to use, it’s the iTunes experience that makes them easy to obtain. Without the latter, the former simply wouldn’t matter.
We’ve spoken previously about how Apple’s tight control of its ecosystem and its competitors lack of such structure has helped build the App Store into what it is, and insured that it continues to outpace its rivals. But at its core, the App Store works so well because it was built upon a foundation that was proven: iTunes.
Since Apple was able to grow iTunes into the biggest force in online music (and actually, the biggest force now in retail music overall), it conditioned its customers with something very important: The idea of paying for digital goods with one click through a piece of software. Customers had already bought billions of songs through iTunes by the time the App Store was born. And the App Store offered the same exact process, using the same method of payment already stored in iTunes.
This is crucial. Imagine if someone else had tried to launch an app store as its own entity, do we really think it would have exploded in the same way? That seems unlikely, and actually, others had tried similar ideas before, but they never took off. As the blog Webomatica pointed out today, we live in an online world now where many of us expect apps connected to the web to be free. That’s really all iPhone apps are too (though yes, some are more involved and take longer to develop), yet we’re okay with paying for many of them.
“Example: I wouldn’t pay a dime to play Bejeweled 2 online. But paying $2.99 to play it on the iPhone seems reasonable. That reality-distortion is illogical, but it’s here right now, and a very big deal.” blogger Jason Kaneshiro writes. This fact hasn’t escaped me either. I won’t pay to play a game online, but in the App Store it’s “click buy, click buy, click buy” without a moment’s hesitation. It’s just so easy and I’m used to spending a certain amount of money on iTunes every month.
Again, there is no doubt that the iPhone/iPod touch played a huge role in all of this, but my point is that Apple made it as easy as can be for customers by placing the App Store on top of iTunes. And as a result, since customers are wiling to pay for these apps, it lit a fire under the third-party developer community, which continues to fuel the App Store.
It’s a cycle. And it remains one that will be very hard for a competitor to break because they don’t have this iTunes ecosystem. It’s the gift that keeps on giving for Apple.
[photo: United Artists]