Apple 2.0

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Apple fact check: 50,000 iPhone apps? - Update 2

June 10, 2009: 10:50 AM ET

Schiller w/50,000I was surprised Monday when Apple (AAPL) vice president Phil Schiller announced that there were 50,000 applications available on the iPhone App Store.

He was giving the keynote at the World Wide Developers Conference -- a role usually played by Steve Jobs -- and he used the statistic to show how far ahead of its competitors the iPhone had drawn.

In the bar graph displayed on the Moscone Center's oversize screens, the iPhone's 50,000 apps towered over the

  • 4,900 Google (GOOG) Android apps,
  • 1,088 Nokia (NOK) Ovi Store apps,
  • 1,030 Research in Motion (RIMM) BlackBerry apps, and
  • 18 apps for "somebody else, I can't read it ...  it's small," Schiller joked, referring to Palm's (PALM) App Catalog.

I was surprised, because I had been waiting for the App Store to hit the 50,000 mark -- getting ready to write a post when it reached that milestone. I'd been watching Jeff Scott's automated count at 148Apps.biz -- a source that has proved time and again to be considerably more reliable than Apple in these matters.

You see, Scott has a program that scans the App Store every day, counting the apps that are available for download and checking that number against previous counts. He can tell you -- for any day since the store opened -- how many applications have been approved and how many are still active. He will even send you, on request, a list of the several thousand apps that were approved but are no longer active -- including such best-forgotten gems as I Am Rich and Baby Shaker.

I had checked Scott's site on Sunday, the day before the keynote, and I remember that the number of active applications was still stuck somewhere above 47,000.

Could nearly 3,000 apps have been approved overnight?

"These numbers are from this weekend," Schiller claimed at the keynote. "We looked up on the store."

Well, we looked the numbers up on Wednesday morning, two days later, and this is what we found:

148Apps 6/10/09

Forty eight hours after Schiller made his claim, the number of active applications was still 1,657 shy of that nice round 50,000 mark.

There's no question Apple's App Store has a huge lead over its competitors. And Schiller is perfectly within his rights to ridicule their puny offerings.

But when you have that kind of lead -- when you are a giant among pygmies -- claiming that you are bigger than you are doesn't show a lot of class.

UPDATE: Reached between sessions at the WWDC, Jeff Scott suggests that Schiller may have included apps available in the roughly 60 overseas App Stores. But that raises other questions.

"One of the problems with the other app stores," he writes, "is that there may be the same app [that's] available here in the U.S. with a different ID due to localization. I'm leaning toward counting these as different apps, but it would be nice to be able to count them as one.

"I have a couple theories about why they announced 50,000 apps. They could be counting all unique apps worldwide across all stores. But my guess is that this would be more than 50,000.

"My main theory is that they just wanted to quote a big number and used that. After all we are likely only a couple weeks away from 50,000 anyway."

UPDATE 2: Sharp-eyed reader Alex Kynikos from Chicago notes that Apple's U.S. store -- the one whose numbers they usual report -- past 50,000 available apps on Tuesday, nine days after Schiller made his claim at WWDC.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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