Apple started 2016 with the boast that its App Store customers had spent more than $1.1bn on apps and in-app purchases over the Christmas period, including $144m on New Year’s Day alone.
But there is more to the apps world than just Apple. Analytics firm App Annie spends its time crunching data from Apple and Google’s respective app stores, and its new 2015 Retrospective report sheds light on some key trends.
Google Play top for downloads, but not revenues
Customers of Android’s Google Play store downloaded twice the number of apps as those of Apple’s iOS App Store in 2015, according to the report’s calculations.
Google Play’s 100% “download lead” was up from 60% in 2014, and bear in mind it’s just one of a number of Android app stores. The report’s figures do not include downloads from Amazon’s Android store, for example, nor from the many Android stores in China.
Google Play’s downloads surge is partly attributed to developing countries: Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and Mexico together accounted for nearly half of the downloads growth on Google Play in 2015.
The caveat to all this? Apple’s store is still top for revenues: the money being spent on apps and in-app purchases. While it didn’t give specific numbers for the lead, its graph shows that the lead widened in 2015 – but again, this is compared to a single Android app store, rather than Android overall:
Facebook still the downloads king
The report claims that when it combined stats from the App Store and Google Play, the four most-downloaded apps all belonged to Facebook: WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Facebook and Instagram in that order.
The rest of the top 10 is split equally between apps from western companies (Skype, YouTube and Snapchat) and apps from Chinese developers (Clean Master, 360 Mobile Security and UC Browser).
What about active users? The report split these into separate Android and iOS charts, with Facebook just as dominant. The top iPhone apps by users in 2015 were Facebook, Facebook Messenger, YouTube, WhatsApp and Instagram, while the top Android apps were Facebook, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Clean Master.
Mobile games are still big business – for some
You don’t need an analytics company to tell you that games are still the big money-makers on mobile: just look at the app stores’ top-grossing charts.
At the time of writing, 37 of the top-grossing iPhone apps in the UK are games, while on Google Play only one of the top 50 isn’t a game – step forward 15th-placed Tinder.
App Annie puts some more numbers to this trend, claiming that games accounted for 90% of all revenues from Android’s Google Play store in 2015, and 75% for Apple’s App Store. In China, which is an increasingly important market for Apple, that rose to 95%.
The big hitters in the mobile gaming world remained the same in 2015: the report’s five top-grossing games across Android and iOS were all years old: Clash of Clans, Monster Strike, Puzzle & Dragons, Game of War – Fire Age, and Candy Crush Saga.
The report does claim that the spread of mobile gaming revenues is getting slightly less concentrated among a few companies, which might be encouraging for smaller indie developers with a big idea.
At least until they read the section on how the “time to maturity” of a mobile game – how long it takes for a game to get 90% of all the downloads it’s ever going to get – has fallen from almost 50 weeks in 2014 to just over 17 in 2015.
Games come and go faster than ever, in other words: an average of four months where your game is going to do most of its downloads – and if you took out the biggest hitters listed above, that number would fall further. It’s a tough market with plenty of failures.
Taxi apps, shopping and dating on the rise
The report pulls out a few other categories of apps that it saw as noteworthy in 2015: ridesharing and taxi apps; shopping and dating.
Uber may be the big name in the west in the first of those categories, but the report makes it clear that for now, it faces strong local competition around the world: 99Taxis in Brazil, Ola Cabs in India and Didi Dache in China, for example.
The idea of ridesharing as still a trend driven by the US is also tackled: The report claims that in China, Mexico, Brazil and India, more than 20% of smartphone users actively use one of these apps, compared to less than 10% in the US.
Shopping apps also grew in download terms faster than the overall apps market in 2015. Amazon was one of the big beneficiaries, while the report picks out Wish and Geek’s growth in the US and UK as worth watching.
The latter are examples of “mobile-first” stores, launched as apps rather than being based on existing high-street or online stores. This too is a trend catching on in India, where six of the 10 most popular shopping apps in 2015 were mobile-first.
Dating apps, meanwhile, weren’t just popular in 2015: they were making money. Tinder certainly was: it was the fifth top-grossing app last year on Google Play and the App Store combined, while rival Zoosk came in eighth. Tinder’s Plus subscription only launched in March 2015, too.
Streaming music growth – and questions
The top non-games app for revenues made on Google Play and the App Store combined in 2015 may be a surprise: Spotify.
That’s based on in-app purchases of monthly subscriptions to the music-streaming service. What’s more, those revenues are coming almost entirely from the App Store, since on Android Spotify points would-be subscribers to its website to sign up – something that isn’t allowed on iOS.
The report claims that music-streaming apps’ revenues on Google Play and the App Store increased by 120% in 2015, taking in big western services like Spotify and Deezer as well as Saavn in India and QQ Music in China.
Pandora, the streaming radio app that is still only available in the US, Australia and New Zealand, was the third top-grossing app (excluding games) in the world in 2015.
Another look at today’s App Store chart in the UK reveals Spotify is the top-grossing iPhone app, beating Clash of Clans, Game of War and Candy Crush Saga. In the apps world, music subscriptions are increasingly big business, alongside virtual gems and coins.
That brings its own talking points, especially on iOS, where Apple takes a 30% cut of all in-app subscriptions. Spotify raises its price to account for that: subscribers pay £12.99 a month if they choose an in-app subscription on iOS, compared to £9.99 if they sign up on the web.
For all the talk about the rivalry between Apple Music and Spotify, the latter is turning into a decent money-maker for Apple too, via that 30% share of subscriptions.
This article was written by Stuart Dredge, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 20th January 2016 14.08 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010