When Walt Disney Co. began considering the best time to release an iPad version of its popular online kids 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, in what is now the equivalent of a Black Friday for retailers or a Cyber Monday for e-commerce companies. That's because Dec. 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.