'Bulk apps' cited for App Store volume surge

Apple's App Store celebrated its first birthday on July 11, and the computing giant announced last week that consumers have downloaded more than 1.5 billion iPhone and iPod touch applications over the previous 12 months. According to Apple, the App Store now offers in excess of 65,000 total applications, and membership in the iPhone Developer Program tops 100,000. The App Store surpassed the 1 billion download benchmark on April 23--in late January, Apple reported the number of available iPhone and iPod touch applications exceeded 15,000, meaning that developers have added roughly 50,000 new apps in less than six months.

However, there is some debate over just how the App Store's inventory grew so quickly: According to a new study published by hybrid location system developer Skyhook Wireless, mass-produced "bulk apps"--i.e., template-based mobile applications sold at the same price point with the same look and feel but different content--are responsible for the spike. Skyhook reports that the App Store added thousands of 99-cent bulk apps during the first half of the year, noting one unnamed developer sells more than 850 travel applications based on the same template, with each individual app swapping out content based on specific vacation destinations. These mass-produced local search and travel guide apps now account for around one third of total iPhone LBS apps, Skyhook adds.

"The release of bulk apps is a monetization strategy. These developers aim to sell many apps at low price points and low volumes, rather than millions of downloads of one killer app," said Skyhook Wireless director of marketing and developer programs Kate Imbach in a prepared statement. "There is not yet a well-understood path to monetization for mobile apps. Developers are experimenting with various price points, mobile advertising and virtual goods. Creating a catalog of bulk apps is another new and unproven marketing method for mobile apps. As developers experiment with these strategies, it will be interesting to see if bulk apps gain traction."

Apps at the 99-cent price point dominate sales in both the App Store and Google's Android Market, Skyhook notes--only a handful of applications sell for $6.00 to $8.99, although some location apps sell for $9.99 or higher in both storefronts, most them tied to navigation solutions or sports like golf and sailing. Nokia's fledgling Ovi Store offers significantly fewer location apps than its rivals, with only 2 percent of Ovi apps incorporating LBS--a somewhat surprising number given Nokia's $8.1 billion acquisition of navigation software developer Navteq. 

For more on the Skyhook study:
-read this release and check out this data