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Apps are usually available through application distribution platforms, which began appearing in 2008 and are typically operated by the owner of the mobile operating system, such as the Apple App Store, Google Play, Windows Phone Store, and BlackBerry App World. Some apps are free, while others must be bought. Usually, they are downloaded from the platform to a target device, such as an iPhone, BlackBerry, Android phone or Windows Phone, but sometimes they can be downloaded to laptops or desktop computers. For apps with a price, generally a percentage, 20-30%, goes to the distribution provider (such as iTunes), and the rest goes to the producer of the app. The same app can therefore cost the average Smartphone user a different price depending on whether they use iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry 10 devices.
The term "app" is a shortening of the term "application software". It has become very popular and in 2010 was listed as "Word of the Year" by the American Dialect Society. In 2009, technology columnist David Pogue said that newer smartphones could be nicknamed "app phones" to distinguish them from earlier less-sophisticated smartphones.
Mobile apps were originally offered for general productivity and information retrieval, including email, calendar, contacts, and stock market and weather information. However, public demand and the availability of developer tools drove rapid expansion into other categories, such as mobile games, factory automation, GPS and location-based services, banking, order-tracking, ticket purchases and recently mobile medical apps. The explosion in number and variety of apps made discovery a challenge, which in turn led to the creation of a wide range of review, recommendation, and curation sources, including blogs, magazines, and dedicated online app-discovery services.
The popularity of mobile apps has continued to rise, as their usage has become increasingly prevalent across mobile phone users. A May 2012 comScore study reported that during the previous quarter, more mobile subscribers used apps than browsed the web on their devices: 51.1% vs. 49.8% respectively. Researchers found that usage of mobile apps strongly correlates with user context and depends on user's location and time of the day.
According to market research firm Gartner, 102 billion apps will be downloaded in 2013 (91% of them will be free) but they will still generate US$26 billion, up 44.4% on 2012's US$18 billion. An analyst report estimates that the app economy creates revenues of more than €10 billion per year within the European Union, while over 529,000 jobs have been created in 28 EU states due to the growth of the app market.
Developing apps for mobile devices requires considering the constrains of these devices. Mobile devices run on battery and have less powerful processors than personal computers. Developers also have to consider a lengthy array of screen sizes, hardware specifications and configurations because of intense competition in mobile software and changes within each of the platforms.
Mobile application development requires use of specialized integrated development environments. Mobile apps are first tested within the development environment using emulators and later subjected to field testing. Emulators provide an inexpensive way to test applications on mobile phones to which developers may not have physical access.
Amazon Appstore is an alternate application store for the Android operating system. It was opened in March 2011, with 3800 applications.
Apple's App Store for iOS was the first app distribution service, which set the standard for app distribution services and continues to do so, opened on July 10, 2008, and as of January 2011, reported over 10 billion downloads. As of June 6, 2011, there are 425,000 third-party apps available, which are downloaded by 200 million iOS users. During Apple's 2012 Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that the App Store has 650,000 available apps to download as well as "an astounding 30 billion apps" downloaded from the app store until that date. From an alternative perspective, figures seen in July 2013 by the BBC from tracking service Adeven indicate over two-thirds of apps in the store are "zombies", barely ever installed by consumers.
BlackBerry World is the application store for BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry OS devices. It opened in April 2009 as BlackBerry App World, and as of February 2011, was claiming the largest revenue per app: $9,166.67 compared to $6,480.00 at the Apple App Store and $1,200 in the Android market. In July 2011, it was reporting 3 million downloads per day and 1 billion total downloads. In May 2013, BlackBerry World reached over 120,000 apps. BlackBerry 10 users can also run Android apps.
Google Play (formerly known as the Android Market) is an international online software store developed by Google for Android devices. It opened in October 2008. In April 2013, there were approximately 850,000 apps available for Android, and the estimated number of applications downloaded from Google Play was 40 billion. Android Apps can also run on BlackBerry 10 devices.
An app store for Nokia phones was launched internationally in May 2009. As of April 2011 there were 50,000 apps, and as of August 2011, Nokia was reporting 9 million downloads per day. In February 2011, Nokia reported that it would start using Windows Phone as its primary operating system. In May 2011, Nokia announced plans to rebrand its Ovi product line under the Nokia brand and Ovi Store was renamed Nokia Store in October 2011. Nokia Store remains as the distribution platform for its previous lines of mobile operating systems but will no longer allow developers to publish new apps or app updates for its legacy Symbian and MeeGo operating systems from January 2014.
Windows Store was introduced by Microsoft for its Windows 8 and Windows RT platforms. While it can also carry listings for traditional desktop programs certified for compatibility with Windows 8, it is primarily used to distribute "Windows Store apps"—which are primarily built for use on tablets and other touch-based devices (but can still be used with a keyboard and mouse, and on desktop computers and laptops).
An app store for Samsung mobile phones was founded in September 2009. As of October 2011 Samsung Apps reached 10 million downloads. Currently the store is available in 125 countries and it offers apps for Windows Mobile, Android and Bada platforms.
Mobile application management (MAM) describes software and services responsible for provisioning and controlling access to internally developed and commercially available mobile apps used in business settings, which has become necessary with the onset of Bring your own device (BYOD) phenomenon. When an employee brings a personal device into an enterprise setting, mobile application management enables the corporate IT staff to transfer required applications, control access to business data, and remove locally cached business data from the device if it is lost, or when its owner no longer works with the company.