Today, Apple officially unveiled the App Store, the exclusive vendor of licensed software for the iPhone, iPhone 3G, and iPod touch. Though we briefly discuss the iTunes version of the App Store in our Instant Expert: Secrets of iTunes 7.7 feature, this update runs through how the App Store works with both iTunes 7.7 and directly from the iPhone.
On iPhones and iPod touch, the App Store is a home screen icon that looks like a ringed arrow pointing downwards against a blue background. Clicking on this icon brings you to the application specific section of the iTunes Store, where games, productivity software, and other types of reference tools can be downloaded. Just like the iPhone’s iTunes application, there are featured, categorized, and top ranked downloads, as well as a search feature. You can also go to an Updates screen to access updated versions of your programs at no extra charge. Clicking on any of the items brings up a screen with information and a price that transforms into a Buy Now button when touched.
After you enter your password to authorize the purchase—this only need be done once per session—an icon appears on the iPhone’s screen with the word Loading. A bar on top of the icon shows that your app is in the process of downloading.
You can continue to use the iPhone while the download is taking place, even revisiting the App Store to continue finding files. Additional apps will appear as new icons on the screen, but will not begin to download until the previous app has completed the downloading process.
As soon as the download has finished, the file will be “Installed” by the iPhone, and then become playable. Though the battery will take a real hit while it’s happening, you can play games and continue to let the phone grab files at the same time.
Using the iTunes Store to download applications is less battery intensive, but requires synchronization of the iPhone in order to transfer the files for initial use. Finding the App Store in iTunes is current a little challenge – you’ll need to go to the top left of the iTunes window and look for Applications in your library, then go to the bottom right corner and pick Get More Applications.
Once in the App Store, iTunes behaves just as if you’re shopping for music, but the categories are different—business, education, entertainment, finance, games, healthcare & fitness, lifestyle, music, navigation, news, photography, reference, social networking, sports, travel, utilities and weather are currently listed, along with spotlighted applications from each category.
Individual item pages, too, are just like iTunes Store media downloads, except that there’s a Buy App button for making purchases.
When you’ve bought something, it appears as a download in progress under your Store listing, then gets added to your list of Applications in the library.
Synchronization can be done on a per-app or entire library basis. Interestingly, iTunes will automatically sync back to its own library any downloads you’ve made directly from the iPhone, for backup purposes. It will also run a brutally long backup period to capture everything else on your iPhone.
Of course, free downloads with both the iPhone and iTunes versions of the App Store are as easy as the paid ones, minus of course the need to see your credit card charged. You are limited to 10MB or smaller downloads if you use the iPhone on a cellular network for file transfers; Wi-Fi transfers via either the iPhone or iPod touch can be any size that fits the remaining storage space of your device.