App Development: By The Numbers

Apple released this week their numbers for user downloads from the Apple Store since its grand opening in 2008, and to put it mildly, they are astonishing:

-          There have been a total of 40 billion iOS app downloads since Apple launched the store in 2008

-          In 2012 alone, there were almost 20 billion downloads

-          According to Apple, developers have been made over $7 billion dollars via the Apple Store

Digging down into these stats a bit further, we find that under these huge numbers is a bit of a different story. While 40 billion downloads is definitely nothing to sneeze at, the payout actually averages out to pennies per download when you consider the app store’s cut, overhead, developer outlay, etc. According to one source, this number hovers around 17.5 cents per download, but back in 2011, this was around 20 cents per download. This begs the question of why: are more apps being downloaded, contributing more apps to the pool with less money? Is less money being funneled back to developers? Or is there such an increase of free apps (with in-app purchases) being downloaded that the revenue data is a bit misleading?

Show me the money

In a study released early December from research firm Canalys, it was found that from November 1 to November 20, $120 million dollars in total revenue was generated from both paid app downloads and in-app purchase. However, that money went primarily to 25 top grossing developers, with everyone else on the long tail picking up the crumbs.

All of the top 25 save one are game developers, including Zynga, Disney, Rovio, Kabam, Glu, Gameloft, and Electronic Arts. 145 out of the top 300 apps in the Apple Store are games, and 116 out of the top 300 apps on Google Play are also games. The only non-game app on the top list was Pandora, a streaming radio app that offers a premium subscription for 3.99 via in-app purchasing.

Numbers game

While (some) developers have made good money in the App Store, perhaps the numbers are better looked at a more granular level, as we did above. The number of apps downloaded does not include re-downloads or updates; that forty billion number is a standalone, which is quite impressive. There are a total of 775,000 apps available in the Apple Store for iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch users all over the world.

Success stories are rampant; for instance, the small husband and wife team behind the popular “Temple Run” game have seen this highly addictive game downloaded over 75 million times. Apps were particularly popular in December, with two billion apps downloaded to devices in one month alone. The App Store also released user data, with more than 500 million active accounts on the books.  One source estimates that there is an average of 641 new apps uploaded to the App Store every day, with more than 19,000 every month in every category.

A mobile statistics company looked at the most recent app downloads for both iOs and Android:

“Flurry estimated that a record-breaking 17.4 million iOS and Android devices were activated on Christmas Day, along with an equally record-breaking 328 million application downloads. Studying the data from December 25 – December 31, additional records were set, now for the highest number of device activations and app downloads of any week in history. Over the holiday week, Flurry estimates that over 50 million iOS and Android devices were activated, and 1.76 billion applications were downloaded.” - Source

 Is this encouraging to developers? Maybe

If you’re a developer reading these numbers, you might be thinking that this is a really good time to be someone who knows how to code, and you would definitely be right: software programmers are an extremely valuable commodity. However, those numbers should also give software developers a bit of pause before dreaming of piles of money. Most of that paid-out revenue goes to just a few developers, with most coders’ apps trying vainly to get noticed in the vast sea of uploaded apps.

Developers that don’t have that crucial household name recognition or marketing budgets to shove out the competition will find that they can still do quite a bit to compete in the app store ecosystem. Creativity, persistence, and the ability to reach underserved markets is the key. There are several different ways that developers can increase the chance that their app will be discovered in app stores, including:

  • App store optimization
  • Social media outreach
  • Website tie-in
  • Discounts, both seasonal and otherwise
  • In-app rewards

There’s also this somewhat obvious fact: Apple and Google Play are definitely not the only fish in the sea. There’s also a massive app development opportunity inherent in the release of Windows* 8, with a store that is also quietly gaining market share as more users transition to this OS. In other words, Apple and Google Play are not the only market in town for savvy app developers.

Apple is definitely the big player, no doubt about it. We know that hundreds of thousands of apps are launched every week in every app store, some good, some bad, some mediocre. Stats like this that are released can serve as both a blessing and a curse for developers who are looking for some kind of data that will encourage them to keep going, and it’s very easy to get pulled into the excitement.

If you’re a developer, what do you think about Apple’s announcement? Are you swayed by big data like this? Does it make you more (or less) excited to be a developer at this time in history? Share with us in the comments.


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