Killer Applications

Software or computer programs that are so popular that they increase the value of the console on which they run

What are Killer Applications?

Killer applications – also known in abbreviated form as killer apps – are popular software, applications, or features that are so powerful, useful, or desirable that they increase the value (and thus the number of sales) of the platform or console on which the killer application runs. It is a technical term used by individuals in, or familiar with, the realm of computer technology.

Killer Applications

The reason behind the phenomenon of killer applications is that the killer application itself and the console on which the application runs are complements.

Two goods (the console and the killer application) are complements if the value of the two goods being used together is greater than the sum of the two goods used separately.


  • Killer applications, also known as killer apps, are software or computer programs that are so popular that they increase the value of the console on which they run.
  • Economically speaking, killer applications are extremely valuable complements to their consoles.
  • The term was first used in 1988 by PC Week, a microcomputer magazine.

Analyzing Killer Applications and Consoles as Economic Complements

In this case, the console (such as a computer) certainly carries value, as it can perform various tasks. However, the application would be rendered useless without the console to utilize the application.

When the potential of an application is so great that many consumers – who without the usefulness of the application would not have purchased the console – are purchasing the console, the application is known as a killer application.

Put differently, an application is a killer application when the application itself is the main reason that many consumers are purchasing the console on which the application runs. When a company is able to achieve a killer application for its console, they will generally earn magnified profit for the length of time it can keep that killer application exclusive to its console.

Usage of “Killer Applications”

First Known Usage

The first recorded usage of a “killer application” was in 1987 by the computer magazine, PC Week, recorded by Oxford English Dictionary. The year after, in 1988, the term “killer app” was recorded in use for the first time, also in PC Week.

Microsoft Antitrust Case

An interesting scenario involving the usage of the term “killer app” came in the United States v. Microsoft Corp. antitrust case. Microsoft founder Bill Gates had used the term in an email where he described the then default browser for the Windows operating system, Internet Explorer, as a killer app.

Gates would deny that this particular usage had meant that Internet Explorer was a software that would help Microsoft illegally monopolize the market and supplant competition. Instead, Gates insisted he had meant that he simply used the term to express that Internet Explorer was “a popular application.”

Ironically, the very definition Gates denied against is the definition provided by the Microsoft Computer Dictionary.

Introduction of the Original iPhone

Another usage of the term “killer app” came in 2007 at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone.

Jobs exclaimed that “the killer app is making calls,” referring to the focus feature of the iPhone, which was the phone’s improved process with phone calls. The mobile phone’s ability to connect to and surf the internet was not mentioned until a half-hour into the presentation.

Although the iPhone’s refined ability to make phone calls was met with applause and excitement, it turns out that this particular feature would not be a “killer app” that consumers yearned for.

Examples of Killer Applications


VisiCalc was the first-ever spreadsheet computer program released for personal computers. At first, only the version compatible with the Apple II series home computer series was available to the public. As consumers had a high demand for the software, they first purchased VisiCalc for $100 and then an Apple II series computer for $2,000 to $10,000.

BYTE, a then microcomputer magazine, wrote in 1980 that VisiCalc is the first program that’s been the cause of “sales of entire systems.” Similarly, Creative Computing, another then microcomputer magazine, reviewed that VisiCalc was “reason enough for owning a computer.”

Nintendo Video Games

Many of Nintendo’s characters and franchises are beloved by gamers all over the world. The games in its franchises are the desirable software that are the killer applications for Nintendo.

Some of the titles known internationally include:

  • The Mario series
  • The Legend of Zelda series
  • The Pokémon series

The Nintendo series count fans that are loyal and dedicated. As such, many fans will continue to purchase newer Nintendo gaming consoles to play games in the aforementioned franchises.

Notably, a distinguishing feature of the killer applications for Nintendo is that it’s been able to successfully update and retain its killer application franchises. That is, as Nintendo continuously developed and released new games for familiar franchises, it’s been able to profit from fans buying newer consoles on which the newer games run.

Related Readings

CFI offers the Commercial Banking & Credit Analyst (CBCA)™ certification program for those looking to take their careers to the next level. To keep learning and developing your knowledge base, please explore the additional relevant resources below:

Financial Analyst Certification

Become a certified Financial Modeling and Valuation Analyst (FMVA)® by completing CFI’s online financial modeling classes and training program!

0 search results for ‘