Though the iPhone will mark its 10th anniversary later this year, the modern app economy it helped create is, in many regards, still in its infancy. The companies that play a pivotal role in this space are therefore more often categorized as growth stocks, as opposed to dividend-paying value stocks.

However, as one company has proved time and again over its illustrious history, rules are made to be broken. Keeping that in mind, here's why tech giant Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is without question the best dividend stock operating in the mobile app sector.

Putting the "app" in "Apple"

The world's largest tech company casts a large shadow over the mobile app industry.

Though Apple keeps some figures relating to its App Store close to the vest, it's agreed that the tech giant owns the world's largest and most profitable app store. Last year, App Store gross revenue surpassed $28 billion  for the first time in company history. Of course, Apple keeps only a small percentage of that amount for itself. The figure has been around 30% in the past, though Apple has tweaked its service fees in recent times.

Moreover, in the keynote address at the World Wide Developers Conference, Apple detailed plans to overhaul its App Store to better resemble Apple Music.  That move should help Apple continue to serve as the lucrative intermediary between developers and consumers.

 As a dividend payer, Apple remains one of my favorite picks in all of tech to drive continued income growth over the long term. The company's impressive rally over the past 12 months has pushed down Apple's dividend yield to 1.5%, which sits below  the 1.9% of the S&P 500, my proxy for the market average. However, thanks to the company's massive cash hoard -- $185 billion after deducting all the company's debts  -- and its highly profitable business model, Apple will have plenty of cash flow available to keep raising its dividend for many years to come.

So I find Apple an easy winner for the top dividend stock in the mobile app space. However, given all the other incredible companies that pay dividends in this booming market, let's consider a few of them as well.

A smartphone owner uses a mobile gaming app.

Image source: Getty Images.

Who missed the cut

I gave consideration to app industry players Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) and Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF), along with a few others. But they didn't make the cut for one reason or another.

For Activision Blizzard, which has been offering a payout since 2010, the reason was simple: Its shares currently yield just 0.5%,  far below the market average. Income investors just wouldn't get enough in return for buying shares.  On the other hand, its payout ratio sits at a low 22%,  so it has plenty of room to grow its dividend, even if its growth were to stagnate for a while. This is an incredible growth stock, and one that investors without a specific dividend motivation could do well to consider.

South Korean electronics powerhouse Samsung has a better yield than Activision, at 1.2%, but it didn't make the cut because of a lack of direct revenue generation from the mobile app economy.

Samsung and Apple are two of the top smartphone brands in the world. But unlike Apple's closed hardware-and-software ecosystem that it alone controls, Samsung relies on Alphabet's Android mobile OS and Google Play Store to power its app library. Samsung uses its own Tizen OS in rare cases, but not enough to make a difference.  

As you can see, though generally strong potential investments, names like Samsung and Activision-Blizzard lack Apple's potent combination of direct exposure to the app economy, current yield, and income growth potential. For these reasons, Apple stands alone as my pick as the clear-cut best income investment in the mobile app industry.

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Andrew Tonner owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Activision Blizzard, Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.