Apple told iOS and Mac developers Thursday that the iTunes App Store is now open for business in 32 additional countries in Asia and Africa as well as elsewhere overseas. As a result, customers in 155 nations around the globe now have access to more than 650,000 free and paid iOS apps from third-party developers.

The latest countries to gain access to the Apple App Store -- such as Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Micronesia, Mongolia, Nepal and Papua New Guinea in Asia -- represent relatively small markets. Still, the expansion is one more step forward in Apple's implementation of its strategy for staying ahead of growing competition from rival mobile app vendors.

For example, the Amazon Appstore for Android-based mobile devices is slated to launch in five European nations this summer as well as go global in the near future. Facebook also represents another potential threat to mobile app store operators now that users of the social networking site can directly connect with mobile app developers from within Facebook.

"To mobile Web developers, Facebook is offering global discovery, distribution and targeting to 900 million active users, along with direct billing," noted London-based research firm VisionMobile.

Developer Support Is Crucial

With Apple's newly announced iOS slated to ship with certain Facebook functions baked into it, however, it is clear that Apple views Facebook as offering it growth opportunities that outweigh any competitive disadvantages. According to ABI Research, Facebook integration with iOS 6 may prove to be good news for Apple and bad news for Google -- whereas the score for Facebook is expected to range from neutral to potentially negative.

"Apple will benefit because the iPhone's sharing capabilities will now better match those of Android-powered smartphones, from which posting a photo from the camera or an article from the browser directly to Facebook has for a long time been a painless exercise," ABI Research said.

Apple realizes that developer support is the key factor with respect to the iconic device maker's future device sales. The good news for Apple is that the company continues to draw top ratings from developers creating mobile apps for multiple platforms.

According to Piper Jaffray, the importance of a strong developer base is crucial to the success of a mobile operating system and therefore the success of a phone or tablet as well. Developers creating apps for both the iOS and Apple platforms clearly prefer iOS with respect to ease of development and future revenue growth, according to the investment firm's recent survey of Worldwide Development Conference attendees.

"We believe that Apple's loyal developer base will continue to develop cutting edge apps for iOS that will draw in new customers," Piper Jaffray analysts Gene Munster and Douglas Clinton wrote in a recent investor note.

Emerging Market Opportunities

One potential downside for iOS app developers is the higher cost of bringing a new product to market. According to VisionMobile's new Developer Economics 2012 report, Apple's iOS is the most costly platform to target.

On average, developing new software products for iOS costs "just above $27,000 per app," the report's authors noted. This is "21 percent more expensive than Android and 81 percent more expensive than Blackberry."

By bringing the Apple App Store to the greatest number of markets worldwide than any other App Store operator, however, the iconic device maker is now in an unrivaled position to benefit from emerging market sales.

"We expect that local demand in Latin America and Asia will grow rapidly as smartphone penetration and app literacy rises," wrote the authors of VisionMobile's Developer Economics 2012 report. "We believe that the majority of the next 10 million apps will be apps produced and consumed within these markets."