A Brief History of Mobile Apps

December 15, 2021

Earlier this week, people around the country celebrated the software that save our to-do list items, connect us with friends, fuel our interests and so much more during National App Day.  Celebrated on December 11, National App Day provides smartphone users the opportunity to appreciate the many mobile applications, apps for short, we use in our daily lives and all the work that went into creating them.

Apps have come a long way from when they lived on what is considered to be the first Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). In the 1980s, Psion developed the Psion Organiser I model, which was branded as the "World's First Practical Pocket Computer" and came complete with a calculator, clock, and other familiar apps.1 Around a decade later, came the world’s first smartphone from IBM in 1993, which was equipped with many of the same utilitarian apps like the Psion.2 The next leap in app technology came in another decade when the BlackBerry Smartphone was launched in 2002 when the company introduced email capabilities on their phone.2 Then, in 2010, apps were put in the forefront 2010 when Apple announced their infamous app store which launched a year later.3

“In its first decade, the App Store has surpassed all of our wildest expectations — from the innovative apps that developers have dreamed up, to the way customers have made apps part of their daily lives — and this is just the beginning,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing in 2018. “We could not be more proud of what developers have created and what the next 10 years have in store.”3

In Quarter 3 of 2021 alone, there were nearly 34 billion app downloads on the app store.4 In all of 2020 86.7 billion apps were downloaded—"Google Play was responsible for 108.5 billion downloads in 2020, iOS had 34.4 billion downloads”.4

According to Matthew Panzarino, Editor in Chief of TechCrunch, there are three stages to how apps have rose to their current ubiquitous usage. The first stage began with the initial Andriod and Apple apps which “adhered fairly closely to the ‘information appliance’ model meaning “Using software, you transformed your phone into a mostly mono-purpose device just like it said on the tin. Now it’s a phone. Now it’s a calculator. Now it’s a messaging tool.”5 The second stage is the “’home screen’ era” which is defined as a time in which apps thought they needed to provide multiple services to be a users go-to app.5 As of 2014, Panzarino believed we were in the third stage which he named “service layers” because apps developed in this stage were built for a specific service or purpose based on your online behaviour.5

“These ‘invisible apps’ are less about the way they look or how many features they cram in and more about maximizing their usefulness to you without monopolizing your attention,” wrote Panzarino. “As iOS and Windows Phone and Android get more sophisticated and more contextually aware, they’re providing the tools needed by developers to not only collate and act on these signals, but also to present them to a user with speed and care.”5

Now that anyone can make an app, either on their own or by hiring a third party to build it, apps are abundant. In the first three months of 2021, the Google Play Store offered 3.48 million apps and Apple’s App Store housed 2.22 million available apps for iOS.6 When the ease of creating is coupled with the potential return on investment, either in usefulness or revenue, apps are as useful to creators as they are to users.

If you want to learn how to create your own apps, check out Capitol Technology University’s Bachelor’s in Software Engineering or the many programs within the university’s comprehensive Computer Science department, offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels.



  1. Centre for Computing History. Psion Organiser. Retrieved from http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/det/28549/Psion-Organiser-1/.
  2. Rajput, M. (2015, November 27). Tracing the History and Evolution of Mobile Apps. https://tech.co/news/mobile-app-history-evolution-2015-11.
  3. Apple. (2018, Jul 5). The App Store Turns 10. Retrieved from https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2018/07/app-store-turns-10/.
  4. Iqbal,, M. (2021, November 10). App Download and Usage Statistics (2021). Retrieved from https://www.businessofapps.com/data/app-statistics/.
  5. Panzarino, M. (2014, May 15). Foursquare’s Swarm and the Rise of the Invisible App. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2014/05/15/foursquares-swarm-and-the-rise-of-the-invisible-app/.
  6. Ceci. L. (2021, December 14). Number of apps available in leading app stores as of 1st quarter 2021. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/276623/number-of-apps-available-in-leading-app-stores/.