NEW YORK: Brands such as Starbucks, Pizza Hut and Gap have all developed iPhone "apps" in an effort to connect with consumers, and are enjoying a variety of benefits as a result, particularly when these tools have featured in ad campaigns run by Apple itself.

The iPhone App Store now contains more than 85,000 items, which have cumulatively been downloaded more than 2 billion times, with a quarter of this total being recorded in the last quarter alone.

AdMob, the mobile advertising network, has also reported that 25% of these downloads take the form of wireless subscribers opting for paid-for services, rather than just choosing free devices.

Starbucks, the coffee house chain, recently released an app enabling consumers owning one of its loyalty cards to pay for drinks using their mobile, a system that will be trialled in certain areas of the US, and possibly rolled out thereafter.

Stephen Gillett, its svp of digital ventures, said "we're really venturing into new waters in terms of mobile payment," and argued the Seattle-based firm is "really talking to our customers in new ways."

"The mobile app is really the powering of some of our most frequently used functions ... and our in-store activity in terms of balance and payment and favorite orders."

Another such platform, myStarbucks, enables owners of the touchphone to "create" their own drinks, locate their nearest outlet, and view nutritional information on its products.

Pizza Hut has previously stated its intention of generating $1 billion (€704m; £599m) in sales via digital channels by 2010, and its iPhone application was recently included in an Apple TV spot supporting the handset.

According to Ian Wolfman, of IMC2, the restaurant chain's digital agency, functions that allow users to remove ingredients by "tilting" their phone are one factor contributing to its popularity.

The company has also offered a discount of 20% for customers who use this medium to order items from its menu, as it seeks to further increase uptake.

Barnes & Noble, the bookstore group, also saw its branded application feature in an Apple ad, and Doug Gottlieb, vp, digital products of said there was one key issue to focus on.

"Start from the customer point of view and really be completely customer-centric. Decide what's going to entertain and engage them and then worry about your business model," he argued.

Gap similarly received a prominent billing in a recent Apple execution for its Style Mixer, which empowers shoppers to browse and match items from its fashion range, and also offers money off any purchases made.

Julie Alonso, senior director of engagement marketing at the apparel specialist, said "our main objective was to create an app for the user – an app that consumers would engage with and use."

The "app" for Epicurious, the online recipe website, has been downloaded 600,000 times since its launch in the summer, and saw a substantial uptick in interest following its appearance in an Apple spot.

While Sarah Chubb, president of Condé Nast Digital, which owns Epicurious, said it had business links with the electronics company, she argued their application was just "lucky to be included".

Zagat, the restaurant review site, charges $9.99 for its iPhone application, and Ryan Charles, its senior product and marketing manager, said brands should pay careful attention to the design of the "tile" users see when browsing through the App Store if they want to secure maximum downloads.

Data sourced from AdAge; additional content by WARC staff