Killer application

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In marketing terminology, a killer application (commonly shortened to killer app) is any computer program that is so necessary or desirable that it proves the core value of some larger technology, such as computer hardware, gaming console, software, a programming language, software platform, or an operating system.[1] In other words, consumers would buy the (usually expensive) hardware just to run that application. A killer app can substantially increase sales of the platform on which it runs.[2][3]


VisiCalc, the earliest generally agreed example of a killer application

One of the first examples of a killer application is generally agreed to be the VisiCalc spreadsheet for the Apple II series.[4] Because it was not available on other computers for 12 months, people spent $100 for the software first, then $2,000 to $10,000 on the Apple computer they needed to run it.[5] BYTE wrote in 1980, "VisiCalc is the first program available on a microcomputer that has been responsible for sales of entire systems",[6] while Creative Computing's VisiCalc review was subtitled "reason enough for owning a computer".[7] Others also chose to develop software, such as EasyWriter, for the Apple II first because of its higher sales, helping Apple defeat rivals Commodore International and Tandy Corporation.[5]

Lotus 1-2-3 similarly benefited sales of the IBM PC and compatibles, including to Apple owners. Noting that computer purchasers did not want PC compatibility as much as compatibility with certain PC software, InfoWorld suggested "let's tell it like it is. Let's not say 'PC compatible,' or even 'MS-DOS compatible.' Instead, let's say '1-2-3 compatible.'"[5][8] Another killer app is WordStar, the most popular word processor during much of the 1980s.[9] Once the Internet became more widely available to consumers, email was seen as a killer app that drove people to purchase computers, even though email is a genre of applications rather than a single "app."


The first recorded use of the term in print was 1987, in PC Week 8 Sept. 107/2. "Everybody has only one killer application. The secretary has a word processor. The manager has a spreadsheet."[10]

The definition of "killer app" came up during Bill Gates's questioning in the United States v. Microsoft antitrust suit. Bill Gates had written an email in which he described Internet Explorer as a killer app. In the questioning, he said that the term meant "a popular application", and did not connote an application that would fuel sales of a larger product or one that would supplant its competition, as the Microsoft Computer Dictionary defined it.[11]

Selected applications for computer systems[edit]

Video games[edit]

The term has also been applied to computer and video games that cause consumers to buy a particular video game console or gaming hardware over a competing one. Examples of a video game killer applications are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Killer app". Merrian-Webmaster. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved 14 January 2015. 
  2. ^ Scannell, Ed (February 20, 1989). "OS/2: Waiting for the Killer Applications". InfoWorld. Vol. 11 no. 8 (Menlo Park, CA: InfoWorld Publications). pp. 41–45. ISSN 0199-6649.  Early use of the term "Killer Application".
  3. ^ Kask, Alex (September 18, 1989). "Revolutionary Products Are Not in the Industry's Near Future". InfoWorld. Vol. 11 no. 38 (Menlo Park, CA: InfoWorld Publications). p. 68. ISSN 0199-6649.  Early use of the term "Killer App".
  4. ^ D.J. Power, A Brief History of Spreadsheets, DSSResources.COM, v3.6, 8 August 2004
  5. ^ a b c McMullen, Barbara E. and John F. (1984-02-21). "Apple Charts The Course For IBM". PC Magazine. p. 122. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  6. ^ Ramsdell, Robert E (November 1980). "The Power of VisiCalc". BYTE. pp. 190–192. Retrieved 18 October 2013. 
  7. ^ Green, Doug (August 1980). "VisiCalc: Reason Enough For Owning A Computer". Creative Computing. p. 26. Retrieved 18 October 2013. 
  8. ^ Clapp, Doug (1984-02-27). "PC compatibility". InfoWorld. p. 22. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  9. ^ Bergin, Thomas J. (Oct–Dec 2006). "The Origins of Word Processing Software for Personal Computers: 1976-1985". IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 28 (4): 32–47. doi:10.1109/MAHC.2006.76. 
  10. ^ Earliest usage cited in Oxford English Dictionary
  11. ^
  12. ^ Bourgeois, Derek (2001-11-01). "Score yourself an orchestra". The Guardian (Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 2011-05-10. Many composers bought an Archimedes simply to have access to the program. 
  13. ^ "The Definitive Space Invaders". Retro Gamer. No. 41 (Imagine Publishing). September 2007. pp. 24–33. Retrieved 2011-04-20. 
  14. ^ Williams, Gregg (May 1981). "Star Raiders". BYTE. p. 106. Retrieved 18 October 2013. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ Adams, Roe R. III (November 1990). "Westward Ho! (Toward Japan, That Is)". Computer Gaming World. p. 83. Retrieved 16 November 2013. 
  17. ^ Hruby, Patrick (2010-08-05). "The Franchise". ESPN. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  18. ^ Fahs, Travis (2008-08-06). "IGN Presents the History of Madden". IGN. Retrieved 2009-03-30. 
  19. ^ Patterson, Eric L. (November 3, 2011). "EGM Feature: The 5 Most Influential Japanese Games Day Four: Street Fighter II". Electronic Gaming Monthly. Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  20. ^ Craig Glenday, ed (2008-03-11). "Hardware History II". Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition 2008. Guinness World Records. Guinness. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-904994-21-3.