When Walt Disney began considering the best time to release an iPad version of its popular online children's game Club Penguin this year, only one date came to mind.
"It was all designed to lead up to Christmas," said Chris Heatherly, the head of Club Penguin. Disney anticipates getting about half of its yearly subscribers for the virtual-world game during the week of Christmas - and especially on the holiday itself. "It's definitely our prime time," he said.
Disney's strategy illustrates how Christmas has become the most lucrative day of the year for makers of mobile applications.
That's because December 25 is the day that people take the wraps off gifts of smartphones and tablets - immediately spurring many to download games, productivity tools and other apps from Apple's App Store and Google's Play store.
This Christmas is projected to set another record for app downloads, following 328 million downloads last December 25 - the busiest day ever - and 36 per cent above 2011, according to analytics firm Flurry. According to a Harris survey commissioned by mobile-app and website-testing company Soasta, 30 per cent of Americans plan to download an app on December 25.
"One of the first things you do when you get a shiny new present is you want to take it for a test run," said Marcos Sanchez, vice-president at App Annie, a company that measures app downloads. "It's the magical trifecta of something new, time to waste and wanting to fill your time with fun stuff."
While many developers like Disney plan all year for a Christmas rush, a final blitz comes in the last few weeks. Apple's offices close between December 21 and December 27, leading app makers to rush to get their updates submitted and approved before the deadline. A plug from Apple on the front page of the App Store guarantees a flood of downloads.
Apple said this year that two billion apps were downloaded last December, a monthly record.
The holiday surge has created a dogfight among developers to get noticed in an increasingly crowded market. Apple's App Store and Google Play each have more than a million apps.
Some developers use straightforward tactics to grab attention, such as introducing new titles, cutting prices and hunting for press. Others use digital-advertising campaigns to manipulate Apple's rankings by guaranteeing a certain number of downloads and better visibility in the App Store. While Apple has attempted to clamp down on that strategy, the practice persists.
"There's competition to make sure your app is ranked and app developers go to every distribution platform they can get their hands on," said Siqi Chen, co-founder of Heyday, which released its journal-taking app this month to capitalise on the Christmas spike. He said his company doesn't pay for downloads.
Making it harder for smaller outfits to stand out is that richer firms like Disney and video-game publisher Electronic Arts are prioritising mobile entertainment as an important revenue source, said Fernando Pizarro, general manager at PapayaMobile, an advertising platform.
Steve Stamstad, vice-president of marketing for EA Mobile, said the game publisher made changes to all its phone and tablet titles ahead of Christmas. The publisher of FIFA Soccer will get five billion different "marketing impressions" in front of consumers for the Christmas rush.