A killer application (commonly shortened to killer app), in the jargon of computer programmers and video gamers, has been used to refer to any computer program that is so necessary or desirable that it provides the core value of some larger technology, such as a gaming console, software, operating system, or piece of computer hardware. In this sense, a killer app substantially increases sales of the platform that supports it. In more general terms, a killer app is an application so compelling that someone will buy the hardware or software components necessary to run it.
One of the first examples of a killer application is generally agreed to be the VisiCalc spreadsheet on the Apple II platform. The machine was purchased in the thousands by finance workers (in particular, bond traders) on the strength of this one program. The next example is another spreadsheet, Lotus 1-2-3. Sales of IBM's PC had been slow until 1-2-3 was made public; the IBM became the best-selling computer only a few months after Lotus 1-2-3's initial release.
A killer app can provide an important niche market for a non-mainstream platform. Aldus PageMaker and Adobe PostScript gave the graphic design and desktop publishing niche to the Apple Macintosh in the late 1980s, a niche it retains to this day, despite the fact that PCs running Windows or Linux have been capable of running versions of some of the same applications since the early 1990s.
Software developers of new platforms now tend to focus considerable effort and funds into discovering or creating the next "killer app" for a given technology, as platforms (such as Windows 1.0) often fail for lack of one.
Calendar and Contact organization was the killer application behind first PDAs on the market, but later on GPS was introduced on these platforms, compelling many users to buy PDA devices (and GPS receivers) primarily for car navigation. Eventually, purpose-built devices became available on the market, based on a version of Windows Mobile stripped clean of the PDA software.
There have been a number of new uses of the term. For instance, the usefulness of e-mail drew many people to use computer networks. The Mosaic web browser (full-screen) is generally credited with the popularization of the World Wide Web, and hence the Internet, following the days that Internet access was a line-oriented, scrolling dialog.
The term has also been applied to computer and video games that cause consumers to buy a particular video game console or gaming hardware. An example of a killer application is Star Raiders, released in 1979 on cartridge for the Atari 8-bit computer. Another "killer app," Space Invaders, was released a year later on the successful Atari 2600 platform. The VCS became a sell-out over Christmas. The Game Boy saw Tetris, and the Nintendo 64 saw much success with the releases of Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The Halo series for the Xbox is also considered a "killer app."
Portable devices are incorporated with more and more functionalities, such as photo/video camera, video phone, SMS, PDA, music player, video player, Bluetooth and Wireless LAN. Communication Networks for cell phones evolve around the need for increased bandwidth and better support for internet connections. The Killer Application for these platforms has to be compelling enough that users crave ownership of the latest devices and subscribe to these services, thus driving the future development of mobile networks and Internet.
Examples of current for-profit services provided by network operators: