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In October, I argued that the most important Apple product released in the last few years isn’t the iPhone or the iPad. They’ve certainly changed the way people interact with their devices by popularizing the modern smartphone and tablet industries, but they probably wouldn’t have done so if it weren’t for another product: the App Store. It changed the way we buy software, the way companies like Apple and Microsoft release their own products, and made the luxury devices on which it operates more appealing to cost-conscious consumers.

But a new report from AppDirect, a cloud service marketplace and management platform, isn’t interested in how the App Store and its counterparts affected consumers or companies like Apple or Microsoft or Google. It’s meant to determine how these marketplaces have changed the way Fortune 500 companies distribute software.

How have some of the world’s largest companies responded to what is arguably the biggest shift in the way we use technology since someone had the brilliant idea to connect a bunch of computers through a series of tubes?

Here are the main takeaways from the report, snippet-style:

Companies are (obviously) embracing the app revolution by releasing their own apps.

The report says that 64 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer an app of some sort; 88 percent of Fortune 100 companies do the same. There are some obvious differences between industries — technology companies are more likely to offer an app than mining companies, for example — but on the whole it seems that apps are becoming as popular with large companies as they are with consumers.

Almost all of these companies — 99 percent — are distributing their software via established marketplaces like the App Store or the Google Play store. But some are taking matters into their own hands by creating their own marketplaces, and they aren’t just selling their own software.

They’re also selling other companies’ software

According to the report, almost 20 percent of the Fortune 100 companies that offer their own applications also sell software made by other companies. The App Store revolution didn’t simply make it easier for large companies to distribute their own software — it also showed them that they could create their own marketplaces and distribute other companies’ software, too.

Surprisingly, many of these company-run marketplaces aren’t simply offering mobile apps. They’re more focused on subscription services, which leads nicely into the next point.

Mobile apps are only part of the equation

Yes, these companies are offering many mobile apps. Yes, the app stores that they’re sold on were either created for mobile devices or modeled after the marketplaces that were. Yes, the increasing shift towards accessing software on smartphones and tablets is affecting these businesses. But mobile is only part of the equation.

The majority of companies — 75 percent — creating software sold by other companies are making software-as-a-service products. (The report specifically cites Google Apps, Box, and Mozy as examples of these companies.) And, accordingly, 71 percent of the software sold through marketplaces operated by Fortune 100 companies is a subscription service.

So…

As I wrote in October, the iPhone and the iPad haven’t been the most influential products Apple has released in the last few years. Instead that privilege belongs to the App Store, which, besides helping make those devices popular, is changing the way that many businesses distribute and sell software.

And as AppDirect notes, this change isn’t limited to the technology companies that created these platforms or continue to clutter them with me-too photo-sharing apps and services. Moving to a marketplace-driven method of distributing software is changing the way some of the world’s largest companies consider, approach, and distribute their own products as well as those made by others.

[Image courtesy Cristiano Betta]