What is a 'Killer Application'

A killer application, or "killer app" is a software program with a user-interface perceived as innovative enough to influence computing trends and sales. The term dates to the early development of personal computers and software in the 1980’s when accounting, database and word-processing applications were being developed for mass use. The term "killer application" may be derived from the fact that such an application was perceived to be innovative enough to overcome the competition and spur sales of both applications and computers running operating systems advanced enough to accommodate the latest innovations.

BREAKING DOWN 'Killer Application'

Killer apps can be instrumental in driving rapid growth in sales of the platform on which they are based. A prime example is iTunes, which helped Apple Computer overcome inertia as a niche computer manufacturer to expand into the broader entertainment markets. While some companies that develop killer apps can enjoy substantial margins and profits for many years, this competitive advantage does not always last for long, and short product life cycles are the norm rather than the exception.

As businesses increasingly adopted stand-alone computers connected by local networks or mainframes, both computer and software manufacturers developed more evolved applications that allowed users to execute tasks without needing to know programming language or commands to save a file or send electronic communications. Over time, applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel became the standard for businesses, overshadowing earlier competition such as Word Perfect or Lotus 123. A similar dynamic played out as internet browsers and email applications competed for users worldwide.

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