Over one million apps have made their way onto the App Store during its five years of existence. A million. That’s a pretty miraculous number when you think about it. However it’s not the amount of apps we have to pick from that I find so fascinating, but rather just how much things have changed since 2008. Pickings were comparatively slim at first, and many developers were just starting to dip a toe in the waters of Apple’s new smartphone.
On top of that, the technology itself has changed tremendously in a relatively small amount of time. It makes me wonder if anyone from 2008 would even recognize current iOS devices, and by extension the App Store. Would a newer Apple initiate have any idea what they were looking at if they somehow managed to take a trip to five years ago? I think it warrants a look at how the hardware, the App Store, and the apps contained within it have evolved.
2008 – The Beginning of the Beginning
The App Store’s first year was a rough but promising one. The iPhone 3G rolled out to coincide with Apple’s new software venue and the original iPhone was still viable. The iPod touch was also present and accounted for, while the second generation appeared closer to the end of the year. Even at this point many developers were eager to push these early iOS devices to their limits, to make them more than just a phone or an .mp3 player with a fancy screen.
Handy apps like Pandora Radio, Last.FM, Facebook, and Yelp were to be expected, but that didn’t make them any less impressive to have on a handheld platform. Others such as the intuitive personal organizer Evernote, the eerily accurate song-identifying app Shazam, eWallet’s convenient and secure account password management, and MLB At Bat with its extensive baseball coverage further capitalized on the particulars of the hardware and its general portability. Of course there were also some pretty unnecessary options out there, too. Flashlight kind of served a purpose but was also fairly pointless. It wasn’t as bad as stuff like More Cowbell!, though.
At the same time, the games available on the App Store were beginning to show people that “mobile” didn’t have to equal “mediocre.” Sure there were a few simple ports of the odd classic such as Ms. PAC-MAN, Vay, and Scrabble, but there were also some impressive iOS renditions of popular console games like Super Monkey Ball coming out. Potential mobile gamers also had a few really special titles such as Galcon and Fieldrunners to tide them over. When all was said and done there were over 7,500 apps on the App Store by the end of the year, with more being added every day.
2009 – Moving Right Along
The following year saw even more impressive releases as Apple’s digital marketplace began to expand. The second generation of iPod Touch was the bright and shiny new toy at the time, but it was followed shortly by the iPhone 3GS in June while the latest and greatest third generation Touch closed out the year in September. It all meant better processors, better CPUs, more advanced operating systems, and so on. All stuff that developers needed to acclimate to, but also stuff that meant they could push their boundaries even further. There was no loss of steam when it came to content, either: the App Store finished off 2009 with well over 100,000 apps available.
Many of the basic smartphone necessities were covered, but there was room for so much more. Especially while the technology was improving. Plenty of people used their iPhones as phones, sure, but with the addition of Skype they were able to enjoy the added functionality of instant messaging and voice chat without cutting into their data plans (so long as a wifi connection was present). Big companies were really starting to take notice as well. That same year Starbucks and many other big businesses threw their virtual hats into the ring with their own apps designed to make life a little bit easier for their iOS-using customers. Practicality was also becoming an even bigger focus. The Kindle app gave iOS users a practical e-reading option, and Dropbox was there being Dropbox. By which I mean “an awesome and super-convenient way to transfer files between multiple platforms.” And this same level of refinement could be seen creeping into the games as well.
So many of the App Store’s most notable games and franchises came out around this time. It was almost a mobile rennaisence of a sort. This was the year Real Racing first blew mobile gamers’ minds, even causing some of them to question the legitimacy of in-game video footage until they were able to see the finished product for themselves. Zenonia was just a fledgling action RPG at the time, and while a lot of people liked it I doubt they knew just how many sequels it would spawn. The same goes for Pocket God, although with updates rather than multiple releases. Flight Control began to eat away at peoples’ free time, Angry Birds and Doodle Jump hit it big (like, super big), and Myst and The Sims 3 further displayed the potential for major releases on mobile platforms. Oh, and Canabalt almost single-handedly invented and popularized a genre.
Sega has a very storied history in video games. Home to brands like Sonic the Hedgehog, After Burner, Crazy Taxi, and of course the first banner game for the iPhone, Super Monkey Ball. Some (like me) still consider the Sega Dreamcast the best video game system ever released. But Sega was also one of the first game developers to launch on the App Store. And now with Sega games seeing well over 1.1 billion plays on iOS, we talk with Ethan Einhorn, Director of Online Services, SEGA, about what it was like to launch on the App Store and the amazing response to Sega’s first release, Super Monkey Ball.
148Apps: Sega jumped on the App Store right at launch. It was the first high profile game, and even set the bar for the initial price point for games in the App Store at $9.99. How did Super Monkey Ball come about?
Ethan Einhorn, Director of Online Services, SEGA: We had built a great relationship with Apple prior to the launch of the App Store with the release of Sonic the Hedgehog on the iPod (clickwheel). The controls on that version of Sonic were finicky, but the port was pixel perfect! We were planning to follow up that release with Super Monkey Ball, but doing 3D on the iPod nano proved challenging, so we shifted to iPhone. This gave us a chance to dramatically increase the game’s performance, and let us take full advantage of the iPhone’s tilt functionality.
148Apps:Super Monkey Ball was priced at $9.99 initially. How was this initial price point decided? Did representatives from Apple have any input on the price point?
Ethan Einhorn: We were initially concerned that the $9.99 price point was too low. After all, we were giving users nearly as much content in that game as we did in the $39.99 DS Super Monkey Ball game, and with better graphics! We asked ourselves: if we planned to bring games to iOS, DS, and PSP simultaneously, how would pricing be handled across the board? We didn’t see $0.99 as a price point that would become dominant so quickly, never mind free-to-play (which wasn’t enabled at the App Store launch). As for Apple, they gave us full control over our pricing, just as they do now.
148Apps: I remember seeing that Super Monkey Ball had sold 300,000 copies in the first month. That was pretty amazing back then, considering the price point.
Were you surprised by the initial response?
Ethan Einhorn: Yes. We expected the performance to be solid – we received phenomenal support from Apple, including participation in TV spots. But nobody knew for sure how gaming would take off on that platform. The device was still at a premium price. The iPhone 3G just launching. There were a lot of other games to choose from. But when we hit #1 on day one, and stayed there for more than a week, and we were blown away. We’re very proud to have provided gamers with the first ever #1 ranked game on the App Store!
148Apps:Super Monkey Ball took full advantage of the iPhone hardware, utilizing the accelerometer for tilt controls, which was very inventive at the time. Was any other control model ever considered?
Ethan Einhorn: We talked about offering a virtual stick option. The accelerometer control was tuned to allow for high precision, but it proved too sensitive for a lot of players. Unfortunately, there was no time to implement that. The virtual stick came up again when we worked on Super Monkey Ball 2 (a better game across the board), but by then, the amazing team at Other Ocean Interactive (our developer) had perfected tilt control on the device, so we kept with that.
Here’s Ethan Einhorn demoing Super Monkey Ball at the Apple Press Event, revealing the iPhone App Store in 2008
148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has changed considerably. Number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps has stabilized at the lowest possible point, free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. What would happen if Super Monkey Ball were launched today?
Ethan Einhorn: It would probably look and feel a lot like the PS Vita game – higher visual fidelity, more mini-games. If you haven’t played SMB on VITA, by the way, check it out – all original content, and playable with either stick or tilt controls. It’s awesome! But the challenge is that it’s not really a game that can be shifted to free-to-play, which is where we are focused at SEGA.
148Apps: Any predictions for what the App Store will be like five years from now?
Ethan Einhorn: My guess is that Apple TV will carry all of the benefits of mobile gaming to televisions, while allowing for seamless cross-play between iPhone and Apple TV. I think F2P will get even bigger, but paid games will swing back into vogue, once players spend $100-plus on a few free-to-play titles and recognize that $10 for a premium game experience is actually a steal.
The App Store launched July 10, 2008 and brought with it a whole new way of distributing and purchasing software. The first several months were a wild west frontier of pricing, business models (or the lack thereof), and genre, making the iPhone the place to be.
As the years have gone by, things have gotten more crowded, more predictable, and perhaps more “same-old” to some. Let’s take a look back at those early, heady days with ten of the best iOS apps from the launch of the App Store.
Cro-Mag Rally – Kart racing with cavemen? Yes, please! This launch title from veteran Mac developer Pangea showed us all how much fun the iPhone could be, paving the way for a host of ports and new gaming experiences on the go.
AIM – Before the recent spate of apps that bring multi-client, desktop-style instant messaging to the iPhone and iPad, there was only AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM. This launch title clued us in to the future of always being in touch, even if we didn’t know it at the time.
Fieldrunners – Oh, tower defense games, why do you torment us so? Fieldrunners took the concept already on the web in Flash games and brought it to the devices we had in our pockets every day, iterating its tower defense gameplay to a fine polish. We were hard-pressed to stop playing, to be honest, and still are.
Yelp – Like Urbanspoon, Yelp brought location-based awareness together with user-based opinions on local restaurants and coffee shops at a level we’d never seen before. Yelp has become an indispensable tool when traveling, and even while staying in our hometown, letting us find interesting places to eat and drink at a price we can afford.
Super Monkey Ball – Wait, we were just playing this on our GameCube! How cool is it that we can tilt our iPhones and roll that adorable monkey around the maddeningly difficult tracks? Ten bucks! That’s a sweet deal! Oh, what a difference half a decade makes.
Google Earth – This one came out in October of 2008, quickly amazing us all with its innovative zooming interface as well as its comprehensiveness. Finally, we thought, an interesting app from Google.
Rolando – Wow! This game showed us that we didn’t have to own a PSP to get a quality arcade puzzle platform game like Loco Roco. It also allowed the early promise of ngmoco;) to shine forth like a beacon in the wilderness.
MLB At Bat – Updated on a yearly basis since 2008, MLB At Bat came onto the scene like a home run, proving that this little App Store thing was for more than just fart apps and casual games. Serious sports fans rejoiced in 2008 when this baby was released.
Galcon – This real-time space-themed strategy game was ready on day one of the App Store, bringing a depth of gameplay not seen yet. While games like Mushroom Wars and the like have since iterated on the concept, Galcon remains a perennial favorite.
Evernote – This essential app has been around since day one, and still continues to improve. Evernote showed us how important it was to have access to our notes, files, and pictures across all the devices we used, whether they were on a desktop or in our pocket.
We all show our love in different ways. Sega’s way is to put games on sale, and there are 5 titles on sale from February 11th to the 14th (that’s Valentine’s Day) in order to show their love for iOS gamers everywhere.
First up is Sonic CD, a meticulously-crafted remake of the Sega CD original, and what could be called a love letter to Sonic fans. It is on sale for $2.99 from its regular price of $4.99.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2011-12-15 :: Category: Games
Next up is Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, a game that recalls the undying passion that fans of the original franchise have for the game. It is on sale for iPhone/iPod touch for $1.99 (was $3.99) and iPad for $2.99 (was $4.99).
In the world of the App Store, any kind of holiday is a great reason for developers and publishers to hold a sale, and Easter is no exception. Sega’s taking part in the festivities with an Easter sale of their own, with four titles taking part in the festivities.
Chu Chu Rocket! HD: The iPad version of this revival of the Dreamcast classic is on sale for $2.99, down from $4.99. If you’re spending time with the family this Easter, you’ll enjoy the single-device multiplayer for up to 4 players on 1 iPad. It sure beats having awkward family conversations. If you’re alone this Easter, then online multiplayer is available as well.
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Released: 2008-07-11 :: Category: Games
Super Monkey Ball 2: Have you mastered the art of the monkey ball in the first Super Monkey Ball? Do you not play games that aren’t sequels? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you’ll be glad to know that Super Monkey Ball 2 is also on sale for $0.99!
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Released: 2009-12-01 :: Category: Games
Altered Beast: All I’m gonna say about this original Sega Genesis beat ‘em up going on sale for $0.99 is that someone at Sega has a sense of humor. [To find out what he means, bug the author on Twitter: @wondroushippo -- Ed.]
Have you had your eye on a copy of Chu Chu Rocket but couldn’t justify the $4.99 price tag? If so then we’ve got good news, as Sega has announced they’re dropping the price of several of the company’s most popular games. This isn’t just a temporary reprieve either, as all price cuts are permanent. Here’s the full list:
ChuChu Rocket: $4.99 $2.99
ChuChu Rocket HD: $6.99 $4.99
Ecco the Dolphin: $2.99 $0.99
Golden Axe: $2.99 $0.99
Gunstar Heroes: $4.99 $2.99
Phantasy Star II: $4.99 $2.99
Shining Force: $2.99 $0.99
Super Monkey Ball 2: $5.99 $2.99
Super Monkey Ball 2 Sakura Edition: $7.99 $4.99
Sonic The Hedgehog 1: $5.99 $4.99
Sonic The Hedgehog 2: $5.99 $4.99
Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode 1: $9.99 $6.99
Streets of Rage: $2.99 $0.99
A quick note here, most of the price cuts apply to the iPhone/iPod Touch version of the games, so keep that in mind. The only native iPad apps listed in the reduction are Chu Chu Rocket HD and Super Monkey Ball 2: Sakura Edition.
Hooray for cheap games! It’s also nice to see that most of the price cuts are rather substantive, and that Sega isn’t just taking 50 cents off the price and asking us to get excited. Sure, Sonic 1 and 2 are only discounted by $1, but most of the other titles are at least half off. Furthermore, since these are permanent price cuts you can space out your purchases and grab most if not all of the games rather than being rushed and forced to only pick one or two to get in before the sale ends.
Of course, the flip side to all this excitement is the fact that the price reductions really just bring the games in line with what users expect to pay for apps and the cost of entry is really no lower than what one would find on a lot of other quality titles. So while we applaud Sega for bringing the prices down to a more reasonable level, maybe they should have started here in the first place.
It’s hard to believe that our countdown to Christmas is halfway over. (24 days in December before Christmas, and today’s the 12th!) I hope you all have your holiday shopping done. This Saturday morning comes with our two daily deals. Today, EA Games has Spore Origins on sale for $0.99, while the Appvent Calender is featuring iPharaoh Episode 2 from Studioufo.
Early perusers of the App Store may remember Spore Origins. I know that when I first bought my iPod, Best Buy was giving free copies of the game away with every iPod Touch…that seems so long ago! Anyway, while this game is over a year old, don’t let that deter you. Spore Origins is based around the first stage of the Spore PC game, in which you play a tiny creature (your “Spore”) and must swim around the “primordial ooze,” avoiding larger creatures while devouring smaller ones. As you eat, you’ll eventually evolve, adding parts and customizing your creature. One word of warning: it appears to use accelerometer controls without calibration options. If that’s not a problem for you, go ahead and try it out!
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Released: 2008-09-05 :: Category: Games
iPharaoh is an original action-puzzler with a delicious mummy theme. I’ll let the game’s description speak for itself:
Your Pharaoh, peacefully resting inside an ancient Egyptian tomb is disturbed by the sound of hammers pounding away at his tomb.
Your mission is to defend your Pharaoh and his treasures from greedy treasure hunters by using the Pharaohs mighty powers to control mummies, giant cube stones, sliding doors and moving walls.
It looks surprisingly good, and it’s far more original than many games in the App Store. You’ll need both strategy and speed to excel here. Listening to the YouTube video, it sounded like the audio might become annoying after a few plays, but the mechanics looked solid and addicting. Heck, it’s free. App Store reviews have been largely positive, and the developer clearly plans to update: an endless survival mode is promised with the next one. Grab it before the day’s out!
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Released: 2009-09-17 :: Category: Games
Now for a truly awesome deal: Super Monkey Ball 2 is now 50%, which drops it from the premium tier down to an easier $4.99. The original Super Monkey Ball was one of the earliest and most ambitious App Store games, though it was plagued by rocky controls. Its successor has souped-up graphics, 115 levels, and Wi-Fi multiplayer. Be sure to read our review:
“Super Monkey Ball 2 is a huge step from its original self. While some isolated reports have come in of problems with the game crashing on the second generation iPod touch, in my experience of playing on an iPhone 3GS, gameplay was both smooth and fluent. Within superb in-game graphics, and an upbeat infamous sega-esque soundtrack to boot, Super Monkey Ball 2 is just one of those games you can pick up and play.”
Seeing as its original price is $9.99, this is the day to get it if you’re on the fence. The sale is for this weekend only!