Michael Gil/Flickr

Michael Gil/Flickr

Apps help organize, power and connect the modern world. Let’s take a look at a few of the people and figures behind the most successful apps of all time.

Since Apple launched its App Store back in 2008, apps have entered virtually every area of modern life, including everything from frivolous gaming fun to vital healthcare support. At the time of the App Store’s launch, there were just 500 iOS apps available for download.

[tweetable alt=”In 2008, @AppStore had 500 #apps, now it has 1.3 million.” hashtag=””]As of September 2014, that number has ballooned into an astonishing 1,300,000,[/tweetable] a figure which does not even include apps exclusive to other leading platforms such as Google Play and Windows Phone Store.

All in all, there’s a lot of competition for start-ups to contend with. While most apps disappear without a trace within a few months of conception, a rare few break through and become incredibly successful.

So what does it take to conquer this notoriously difficult market? And who are the people behind these game-changing ideas? A new infographic created by Irish Apps, and published on The Drum, highlights some of the most influential and successful apps of all time.

Minecraft (2009)

Created by Swedish programmer Markus Persson in 2009, Minecraft has evolved into an unprecedented gaming phenomenon. Using building blocks of materials like dirt, rock, lava, and obsidian, players are able to create and play God in their own virtual worlds. The game has a vast fan base: as of June 2014, it had sold more than 54 million copies worldwide across a variety of platforms.

The BBC notes that many Minecraft fans are boys aged 9-11, amongst whom the game is “almost a religion.” So what exactly is its appeal? First off, the challenges and rewards the game presents make it extremely addictive. The social aspect of the game is a major attraction as well: using multiplayer servers, players can communicate via text chat and Skype.

The game has a significant online community, including forums and instructional YouTube videos, and there are even a few Minecraft celebrities. While some parents and teachers have been concerned by the obsessive quality of the game, others have been impressed by its educational value.

According to the BBC, around 1500 schools are now using Minecraft as a teaching aid. [tweetable alt=”@Microsoft bought out @MojangTeam for $2.5bn, with #Minecraft creator @notch topping $1.75bn personal fortune” hashtag=””]In September, Microsoft bought out publishers Mojang AB for $2.5 billion, with game creator Persson walking away with a personal fortune of $1.75 billion.[/tweetable]

WhatsApp (2009)

WhatsApp comes with an amazing success story. Having immigrated to the USA from Ukraine in the early 1990s, founder Jan Kourn spent his teenage years on welfare and food stamps. After dropping out of San José University, he worked at Yahoo as an Operations Engineer before creating the app in 2009.

The cross-platform alternative to SMS messaging allows users to send text, images, video, audio and data using the Internet for communication instead of the user’s precious mobile allowance.

WhatsApp adheres to a strict “no ads” policy, a fact the company emphasizes on its website, claiming that, “devoting time and energy towards advertising effectively makes you, the user, the product.” Such integrity appears to have paid off: in October, Facebook bought out the company for $21.8 billion, according to the New York Times. WhatsApp currently has half a billion users, making it the world’s most globally popular messaging app.

KakaoTalk (2010)

With more than 50 million users in 15 languages, KakaoTalk can be thought of as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp all rolled into one. Founded in 2010, the app allows free mobile instant messaging, texts and calls. It also distributes data relating to third-party content like apps and games and allows users to follow the brands and celebrities they love.

South Korean creator “Brian” Kim Bum-Soo grew up living in a single room with his family of eight. After getting a Masters degree in industrial engineering, he worked at Samsung for eight years before launching KakaoTalk. Today, the app is used by 93% of smartphone users in South Korea and its creator is a bona-fide billionaire.

Instagram (2010)

The idea behind Instagram is a fairly simple one: life is beautiful. Users upload snapshots of their daily lives, crop them to fit into the app’s distinctive square frame, enhance them with a choice of attractive filters, and share them with friends. The simple, well-designed interface means that anyone can take an ordinary photograph and make it extraordinary.

As everything in the app is focused around the photos and users only communicate with one another via the comments feed under a post, Instagram presents its 75 million daily users with many opportunities to inspire each other.

The more followers a user has, the farther the reach of their photos, thus giving rise to the cult of the Instagram celebrity. For businesses, friends and celebrities, it just works. In fact, it works so well that founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger earned $250 million each when they sold the app to Facebook in 2012.

SnapChat (2011)

The idea behind SnapChat is simple but brilliant. Users take photos or videos, add text or doodles, and send them to a controlled list of friends, who can only view the photos for a short, predetermined period of time. When they’re gone, they’re gone, and the only way to reply is to send another “snap.”

There is little pressure to look good or spend time selecting filters: the lack of permanence means that snaps can be silly, unattractive, or even candid. The team behind SnapChat believes that this freedom approaches “authentic conversation” for the app’s users, and with over 100 million users, they might just be on to something.

Expressing complete confidence in his own creation, SnapChat founder Evan Splegel turned down a $3 billion buyout from Facebook in November 2013.

Summly (2011)

Using an algorithm to summarize long news articles into 100 or so words, Summly makes daily life easier to digest. The app essentially takes the issues that affect everyone and helps fit them into users’ lives and pockets. Much to the delight of the app’s teenage creator Nick D’Aloisio, mobile users have responded really well to this minimalistic approach to consuming content.

Having created the app when he was just 15 years old, D’Aloisio sold Summly to Yahoo at age 17 for $30 million, making him one of the Internet’s youngest and most impressive entrepreneurial success stories.

Draw Something (2012)

A classic board game with an addictive social twist, Draw Something is to Pictionary what Words With Friends is to Scrabble. Prompted by basic vocabulary and pop culture references, users draw an image to be guessed by an online opponent. The drawings can be as simple or as sophisticated as the user likes.

Scores aren’t really important: the fun lies in improving one’s own skills and in seeing opponents screw up. Users have the option to play against friends as well as other randomly selected app users. According to Wired, the app is an “explosive success story”. In just seven weeks, the game went from being virtually ignored to topping the game charts in almost every country.

At its peak, the app registered a staggering 35 million downloads and a billion drawings in just one week. Weeks later, creator Charles Forman sold his company to Cityville developer Zynga for a huge $180 million.

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