Steve Jobs Imagined This Critical App Store Feature… in 1983

The first time the world saw the Mac App Store was 2011. That was nearly three years after the iOS App Store launched. But as it turns out, the “App Store” concept dates back to at least 1983.

At the 1983 International Design Conference in Aspen, Colorado, Steve Jobs floated the idea that software could – and should – be made available for download from a central repository. His simplistic view was grounded in his earliest days as a blue-box phone hacker; he posited phones could send signals to one another, communicating the need for a particular software program.

He essentially advocated for an App Store with search (and, you know, the internet). He likened the relationship between software and an App Store to radio and record stores; radio made people aware of new songs and artists, which in turn drove sales at music shops.

But radio is free, and this is where the original concept connects to our present-day experience with app stores. Jobs’ idea was that, when phones connected to discuss software, a free software trial would be offered (just like radio is a free method for trialing songs). With today’s App Store, free trials aren’t available – but when iOS 12 and macOS Mojave launch this Fall, they will be.

In retrospect, it’s easy to think: “Of course we’d eventually get an online store for apps and games, that’s obvious.” But that wasn’t so clear in 1983. Jobs had the concept, but admitted to the crowd that execution would be difficult. In that era, he couldn’t even conceive how users would pay for software over a network. Now, we pay for just about anything with our face (via Apple’s Face ID) using a computer that fits in a pocket (or our wrist, in the case of Apple Watch).

When Jobs proclaimed that the app store concept was the future, we were either staring at tall store displays packed with colorful boxes of software, or asking our friends to slip us disks so we could pirate apps and games. How things have changed.

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