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Apple exceeds 10 billion apps downloaded

The top five free apps in Apple's App Store as of Saturday.
The top five free apps in Apple's App Store as of Saturday.

Apple's App Store hit the 10 billion mark Saturday, a little more than 2-1/2 years after it started the app craze for mobile devices, beginning with its iPhone.

The store went online in July 2008, as part of the iTunes Store, and paved the way for others, such as Google's Android, Research In Motion's BlackBerry, HP's Palm and Microsoft's Windows mobile platforms to start their own app stores. None have come close to Apple's success, with more than 300,000 apps. or programs in the App Store. Second to it is the Android Market, which has more than 130,000 apps available.

"With more than 10 billion apps downloaded in just two and a half years — a staggering 7 billion apps in the last year alone — the App Store has surpassed our wildest dreams,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing, in a statement.

Many of the App Store's programs are free, while others start at 99 cents. The online store's success is in part tied to its ease of use: it only takes one click on an icon on the phone screen to get there. It has also become a central place for Apple's iPad (with more than 40,000 apps specifically for it now available) and iPod Touch. The company also recently launched its Mac App Store for one-click downloads of apps and software for Mac computers.

Three of the top five free App Store apps, as of Saturday, are mainly games: Bubble Ball — downloaded hundreds of thousands of times — and created by a 14-year-old Utah boy; Paper Glider, iFace Fat (a "practical joke" app that makes a photo of someone's face fat), Google Places and the free version of the hugely popular game, Angry Birds.

The top five paid apps as of Saturday are all games that cost 99 cents: Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Cut the Rope, Burn the Rope and Angry Birds Seasons.

While gaming apps are popular, the App Store also includes programs for navigation, reference, medical, health and fitness, news, education, business, music and weather.

The company has been nearing the 10 billion milestone for weeks now, saying that whomever downloads that 10 billionth app would win a $10,000 iTunes gift card. The winner, announced by Apple, is Gail Davis of the town of Orpington, in Britain. Her download? Paper Glider (on the top five free list above).

Meanwhile, Apple's pending request to trademark "App Store" is being challenged by Microsoft with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Microsoft says "the combined term 'app store' is commonly used in the trade, by the general press, by consumers, by Apple’s competitors and even by Apple’s founder and CEO Steve Jobs, as the generic name for online stores featuring apps."

Even if Microsoft wins on this front, it will still have a long way to go with its Windows Phone 7 Marketplace. Launched last fall, it has more than 4,000 apps available, a respectable start, but still way behind Apple.

"The App Store has revolutionized how software is created, distributed, discovered and sold," Schiller said in a statement Saturday. "While others try to copy the App Store, it continues to offer developers and customers the most innovative experience on the pllanet.”

And App Store downloads are likely to swell even more next month when the iPhone becomes available on Verizon Wireless' network.