My app store can beat up your app store

Distimo, an app store market data firm, came out with their latest report on the number of apps that are in the Android Marketplace today and they are, well, bigger than the last report.

If you must know, there are now over 400,000 apps squeezed in there. The combination fused together into one big lump of coded gore with Angry Birds perched on top as the only real app anyone and everyone knows.

Also released today was the announcement that the iPad has had over 3 billion downloads – coming in 6 months faster than the equivalent on the iPhone.

Who cares?

Focusing on the number of apps doesn’t tell the right story. Volume is no longer an issue – we get it, there are lots and lots of mobile applications out there. More today than yesterday. More tomorrow than today. We know that it only took Apple 21 months to reach 200,000 apps while it took Android 32 months to hit the same number. Why is that important?

Focus on the right thing

Let me ask two different spheres of questions: 1 – How many websites are there today? How many snowflakes fell last night? How many desktop software applications are there out there now? 2 – How much revenue did e-commerce websites drive last quarter? How much money does a snowplow company generate per inch of snow? How many licenses did software company A sell last month?

See the difference? Numbers are useless unless you determine the important ones to measure. 400,000 is not a number that denotes health, wealth, success or failure. Even adding an axis of time into the comparison tells an incomplete tale.

I say this industry, the mobile industry, should not judge winners and losers by the size of their app store but by the value the apps bring to the users. My number is 13 – the number of apps I use more than once a week – what’s yours?

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

  • Anonymous

    I think you’re going in the right direction by questioning the value of huge vs super huge app stores. If one store has 300,000 apps and the other has 400,000, are you really going to find something in that 100,000 difference which you won’t find in the first 300,000 apps? I doubt it. I didn’t see you saying this explicitly, but your article certainly underlines the point. After a certain number, comparing app stores is like comparing the C.N. Tower to the Empire State Building: From where you stand on the ground looking up at them, it’s really impossible to measure the difference. All you can say is “They’re both really tall buildings”.

    Even so, there’s value in a vast number of apps. Yes, it brings more chaff with the wheat (as we’re aware) but even a low signal-to-noise ratio means more size = more content. You use 13 apps a week, which is on the modest side for sure. Maybe one is a texting app, one is a browser, one is an email app, and maybe dedicated apps for Facebook and Twitter. Maybe a weather app and a music app (obviously I’m just guessing). But are all 13 so generalized? I use an app that’s a database of sacred texts, another that turns my camera into a scanner, a dedicated PayPal app, a dedicated music creation app, a dedicated banking app, and a few others. Being able to use these is what transforms my device from being a standardized media terminal to being a personalized lifestyle assistant, and I know I’m not the only one who regularly uses apps which are designed specifically for a niche task. In fact, I think that diversity of apps defines the customizable mobile experience consumers expect.

    If the app store has nice huge range of stuff, then it means your chances of getting the *exact* app you want are increased. Sure, every app store offers a browser, an email client, a twitter client, etc… but what else? Whether or not I can use apps for specific jobs (or find them) speaks directly to your point about “the value the apps bring to the users”. This is one of the reasons why the WebOS store (back when the Pre launched) was generally regarded as a tragedy. And correctly so; only 19 apps were on the store at the time. Certainly one of them had to be a browser, another an email client, and maybe even a racing or poker game. Yet, even if you only ever use 13 apps, a 19-app store is not likely to serve your needs. Why? Because out of those 19, it’s highly unlikely they have the 13 apps YOU want.

    What a list of 400,000 apps tells me is: I’ll find the exact app I want. Somewhere out there, someone made a Baha’i Prayer Book app that includes a compass which points to the Qiblih in Israel. Someone out there created an app that takes photos and then lets you paste mustaches on the people in the them (my kids like that one). Someone out there made an Ottawa Citizen app which allows me to read the local newspaper on my phone. This stuff is important. This is what creates a personal mobile experience.

    I think everyone is fed up with Apple waving its privates at the world and bragging about the bazillion apps on their App Store, and I don’t think anyone has ever jumped ship from Android to iOS because they needed something that gap of 100,000 would give them. Even so, I know that if I want a serious, modern mobile experience that makes the most out of my device, whoever I’m buying my apps from had better offer some pretty niche stuff… and you can’t offer niche apps to millions of people until your inventory list is hundreds of thousands of apps long. That’s what having “enough” apps means, whatever the final tally.

  • I’ve just had a @Jwcorey:disqus smackdown! Great response Corey. What I’m ranting about – and you mentioned it as well – is that people/companies/analysts are judging platforms based on the number of apps that are in an appstore. Apple must be winning because they have more apps. Android must be losing because it took 47 seconds longer to reach 400,000 apps. They are focusing on the wrong stats.

  • Anonymous

    No smackdown intended! A respectful, carefully-considered counterpoint in reply to a good point. 🙂

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