Mobile app downloads: Where's the truth?

Industry analysts have entered into a public quarrel over how to interpret mobile download statistics and to what degree Apple's iStore dominates the market. The starting point for this disagreement was a study published by Gartner maintaining that more than US$4.2 billion of revenues were generated by mobile applications in 2009.

The data within the report was evaluated by others with the conclusion that Apple owned over 99 per cent of the app-store market. This provoked rival researchers within comScore to take issue with the iStore numbers, claiming that, although iPhone users buy many more apps than anyone else, there was something very wrong with the calculations.

Gartner responded by claiming the analysis of its report data was an "absolute mess" and that the report examined mobile app revenue generated by application stores only and excluded any preloaded mobile apps or apps a user would get through operator portals.

Adding further confusion to an already muddled picture, the mobile applications analytics firm Flurry then reported that mobile downloads of Android apps shot up by 50 per cent in December of 2009, with consumers downloading 13 times as many mobile apps than from Apple.

Countering this, Apple has just reported that mobile downloads (importantly, not sales) from its app store has surpassed the 3 billion mark during a period of 18 months, with CEO Steve Jobs quoted as saying, "We see no signs of the competition catching up anytime soon."

Even Nokia, which bungled its app store launch, claims to be achieving more than one million downloads a day on Ovi Store--but that was for apps and content (ringtones, wallpapers, etc).

Does this help clarify the issue? Probably not--apart from the general consensus that Apple is the leader today--but the competition is heating up.

What it does illustrate is a lack of definition of what makes up the mobile download market, how much of this is free and what profits--if any--the app developers are making.

Another survey (the more studies available normally indicates greater confusion) of European consumers maintains that over 40 per cent of non-smartphone users would download apps if they could, and would be willing to pay €5 for the pleasure.

This study, undertaken by Samsung and before Nokia's announcement that it would offer its satnav maps for free, claimed that a third of those surveyed would pay for a navigation app.

Recognising that not all apps are worthwhile--chargeable satnav being one--the Samsung study was honest enough to admit that 43 per cent of respondents said they quickly lost interest in the app and stopped using it.

Altogether, a hugely confusing panorama. But this normally typifies a market in its infancy and still struggling to understand what might attract customers--and generate some profit.-Paul