One year ago, Apple officially launched its App Store for iPhone and iPod touch.

It seems crazy that it's just a year old, given all that's happened since. More than 50,000 apps have been released, over one billion downloads have been notched up, and Apple's rivals have launched their own application stores to compete.

Apple is already celebrating the App Store's first anniversary with a list of its "favourite" apps and games, with the latter including many of our best-loved titles from the last year - Rolando, Flight Control, Edge, The Sims 3, and so on.

But birthdays are also a good time for reflection, on what's gone before and what's yet to come. Which is exactly what we've been doing for the App Store.

Looking back

You've been able to buy and download mobile apps and games for years from operator portals, D2C services and early handset app stores like Nokia's Download. As has been the case in other areas, Apple didn't innovate in what it did, but in how it did it. And specifically how easy it made it for us punters.

The App Store set a new benchmark for ease of use, in terms of the way you could browse, buy and install apps and games.

It made the 17-click process of buying a game from many operator portals look like the unwieldy dinosaur technology that it was. Apple's policy of maintaining control of both handset and store - taking your credit card details at the point of registration - made the browsing'n'buying process seamless and enjoyable.

But, equally importantly, it had the games. By offering developers and publishers a better revenue share - 70 per cent - than the operators traditionally had done, Apple got them on board from the start - backed up with a well-distributed SDK.

The first 12 months of the App Store thus saw rapid innovation, thanks to iPhone and iPod touch appealing to game-makers from pretty much every part of the games industry.

Mobile studios, console publishers, casual developers and social games companies converged and competed for attention, with small indies able to have hits as big as the larger publishers.

The goldrush feel was intensified by prominent success stories, from Sega selling hundreds of thousands of downloads of Super Monkey Ball in a few weeks, through to indie success stories like Trism, iShoot and Flight Control.

But on a wider basis, the App Store has refocused the mobile industry on apps - and particularly games. The oft-cited stat that only 5 per cent of mobile users buy games has been swept away by the realisation that actually, if the games are good, they're fairly-priced and easy to download, they'll appeal to many more mobile users.

The App Store's rock-in-pond ripples mean every rival handset maker and mobile OS platform has or has announced plans for its own app store. Operators, too, have been given a mighty boot up the behind, and are readying their own more user-friendly app stores to compete.

Thus, even mobile gamers who don't own an iPhone will benefit from the App Store's success, because games are likely to now be a bigger priority for their operator or handset-maker.

One more paradoxical impact of the App Store: it's simultaneously raised the expectations of mobile gamers for mobile game quality, while driving down the price they're willing to pay.

So, rich 3D games like Tower Bloxx Deluxe 3D, Hero of Sparta and Real Football 2009 are currently selling for 59p here in the UK (99 cents in the US), while the practice of 'doing a Peggle', or 'peggling', by dropping the price sharply after launch to rocket up the App Store chart has become a common marketing strategy.

That's good news for gamers, of course, but developers and publishers aren't so keen, thanks to rising development costs.

A year ago, publishers saw £5.99 / $9.99 as the default price for professional iPhone games, but few games have hung onto that price point for long, or even launched at it. There are signs of a comeback now, though, thanks to games like Rolando 2, The Sims 3, Real Racing and Doom Resurrection.

If iPhone gaming has resembled a goldrush for much of its first year, recent months have seen the start of the comedown, as many developers realise their pans are full of mud, not gold, thanks to the fearsome competition.

Looking forward

So, one year old. It's not quite a toddler, but how could and should the App Store evolve in the next 12 months?

One key challenge for Apple will be the split between the existing iPhones and iPod touches, and the new iPhone 3GS. As Firemint showed with its recent 40-car tech demo 3GS version of Real Racing, the disparity is pretty big.

Could the 3GS be the spur at some point in the coming months for Apple's long-rumoured premium games category, for console-like titles that break the £5.99 barrier?

Improving the discovery and recommendation aspects of the App Store is also a must - not just to benefit developers, but to make it easier for us gamers to find the titles we might like.

Other companies are innovating in this area: look at Nokia's plans for 'social recommendations' on its Ovi Store, telling you what games you might like based on your previous purchases or what your friends are playing.

Apple itself has its Genius technology, which offers personalised recommendations for iTunes music users. A version for iPhone apps and games would be a wonderful thing indeed.

There are tweaks that could make the App Store's browsing process better, too. Gameplay videos would be nice, even just 30-second clips like the ones shown for traditional iPod games on the iTunes Store.

But the key influence on the App Store's success in the next year from Pocket Gamer's perspective will be the games. Developers are getting to grips with the potential of the iPhone 3.0 software, with its in-app payments, push notifications, Bluetooth multiplayer features and more.

How developers use these new tools will be a crucial pointer to the future of iPhone gaming - with a knock-on effect for other handsets and app stores too.

And, of course, there's wild speculation. If Apple launches a tablet device or netbook, it might also hook into the App Store. If it relaunches its Apple TV device as more of a games console, the App Store may play a role there too.

The games we've been playing on our iPhones and iPod touches for the last 12 months might be a precursor to what we'll be playing in our living rooms in the next few years. Although it's also true to say that developments in this area will also be driven by how Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo adapt and evolve the lessons from Apple's digital store.

Apple remains an enigma when it comes to its future plans. But suffice to say, how the App Store evolves in its second year of life will have a direct impact on the way mobile gaming itself evolves. For that reason alone, this is one birthday worth celebrating.