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The Apple app as a termite hollowing out whole industries

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FORTUNE — Apple’s (AAPL) devices get more than their share of media and investor attention. But like Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT), Facebook (FB) and Amazon (AMZN), Apple is, at its heart, a software company.

So argues Asymco’s Horace Dediu in a provocative essay posted Tuesday that makes the case that it’s software, not hardware, that has enabled the disruption of consumer electronics, retail, computers, advertising and broadcast media.

“But we have not seen anything yet,” he writes. “There is another class of software that is poised to lay waste to a new set of industries. The lowly app coupled with cloud-based services is the termite that is set to eat the foundations of the largest of the industries still standing.”

Among the sectors at risk, he says, are gaming, television, shopping, dining, entertainment, hospitality and communications.

Together, Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play have racked up more than 50 billion (repeat, billion) installs in less than four years (see chart above). “Within one year,” Dediu predicts, “these software capsules are going to be in use by one fourth of the global population.”

Why does this matter? His answer:

Nothing has this kind of reach or engagement, not even browsers. What makes the app disruptive, even ahead of a browser-based service, is that it includes incentives for developers (or, more precisely, app producers) to get paid and to have a relationship with the buyer. These two value propositions, in isolation or in combination, are available to millions and consumable by billions. The most democratized market that can be imagined. An unbounded set of producers and an unbounded set of consumers and a persistent connection after the purchase with nothing in between them except a payment mechanism

The world has never seen such an opportunity.

Dediu’s essay is titled “The Omnivorous App,” and you can get it here.