Oct 22, 2013 · 3 minutes

Apple has been busy. The company today released an update to its desktop operating system; offered more information about its new, high-end computer; updated the iPad mini to include an ultra high-definition display; and rebranded the larger iPad, which is now thinner and lighter than before, as the iPad Air. It's a wonder that Phil Schiller didn't repeat his "Can't innovate anymore, my ass" line from last year.

These aren't small updates. Apple has re-thought the way it sells operating system updates, essentially reinvented a product line it ignored for years, and released compelling updates to the products that some expect to become the company's future. These are all important changes, and in some ways they've been made possible by a product Apple never intended to release: the App Store.

As odd as it seems now, the original iPhone didn't ship with a dedicated software marketplace. Developers were encouraged to make mobile websites instead of native apps until Apple relented and released the App Store in 2008. Since then the App Store has become an integral aspect of Apple's products, changed the way people think about software, and come to host more than 1 million applications. Apple wouldn't be the company it is today if it weren't for the App Store.

Consider the changes that the App Store has wrought on Apple's desktop computers. They're become more and more like their mobile counterparts with each update, and much of that can be attributed to the App Store's jump from iOS to OS X in 2011. That didn't just change the way we buy apps on our Macs -- it also changed the way we approach the software that powers them, too.

Apple used to sell updates to the Mac operating system in its retail stores for $129. That price has fallen over the last few years, starting with OS X Lion and continuing with today's update, OS X Mavericks, which doesn't cost a cent. Instead of selling updates through its retail stores and distributing them on discs, Apple is now giving the updates away for free and distributing them only through the App Store.

Then there's the Mac Pro. Apple has basically made a supercomputer cheap enough to sit in your home office instead of government-funded research labs. It's not cheap enough for many consumers, but most professionals who wish to use their desktop computers for more than Web browsing should be able to afford the strange-looking device.

Easy access to such a powerful device is aided by easy access to powerful software. While many professional services aren't yet available through the App Store -- Adobe's Creative Suite is a notable holdout -- Apple has worked to make its own professional software as easy to download as the latest game or free app. The App Store made it easy to test the limits of the devices we carry around in our pockets and backpacks -- soon it might make it easy to test the limits of the ones we leave on our desks, too.

And then, finally, there's the iPad mini and the iPad Air. Both are more expensive than competitive products like the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, and Surface 2. The low-end iPad mini doesn't even feature the ultra high-definition display of its cheaper counterparts -- Apple is positioning its tablets as luxury devices that cost more than other products even if they don't ship with as many features.

That's a tough sell even with the App Store and the many tablet-optimized applications it hosts. Trying to sell these devices without the App Store would be next to impossible. Even Apple would struggle to sell products that cost more than the competition despite shipping with less-advanced hardware. Software makes a hell of a difference, and that means that the App Store is pretty damned important.

Not bad for a product that Apple didn't intend to release in the first place.

[Image courtesy OAndrews]