Mobile // Mobile Devices
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10/26/2011
07:33 AM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
Commentary
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Android Surpasses iPhone In App Downloads

Which set of users is downloading the most apps? Android beats Apple on a key metric.

Android long ago passed iOS as the mobile operating system market-share leader, although the iPhone is still the single best selling phone model. However, even though Apple wasn't leading in the OS share race any longer, its users were still downloading more apps than any other platform--until recently.

Now it looks like Android's OS share gains have translated into app share dominance. For the most recent quarter, 56% of people who bought a phone bought Android, while 28% purchased an iOS phone. The sheer volume of Android users, which is spread over dozens of phones and quite a few phone manufacturers, has caused the number of apps downloaded to surpass those downloaded for Apple, according to ABI Research.

In September 2010, Apple had over 40% share in downloads. That number climbed to over 50% by December, but has been steadily declining since then. It now holds 31% of the download share. Android has jumped to 44% from just a bit over 20% last year.

It surprises me a bit that the download share differs that much from the operating system share. I understand RIM's BlackBerry download share being significantly lower than its market share. That platform is increasingly used only by business professionals, rather than consumers, and the former group is less likely to download a bunch of games or try the latest thing in an application store. Many businesses also block the downloading of apps on a BlackBerry for security reasons.

While Android and iOS are also used by professionals, they are still first and foremost consumer platforms, which proves that consumers drive the smartphone market, not businesses.

But why would iOS's download share be so much higher than its market share? Both platforms have more apps in their stores than you could reasonably browse through, and almost all of the big titles are available on both. Pricing is also equivalent.

It may be that iOS users are comprised of a higher percentage of enthusiasts than Android does. Sure, both have a ton of fans that love the platform, but Android tends to have more people buying its devices because of price than iOS does. My mom has an Android phone because she wanted more than her old feature phone could do, but had no desire to pay for an iPhone. She probably downloads less than one app a month. The phone does mostly what she needs it to do. She isn't an enthusiast. I doubt there are too many iPhone users that aren't enthusiasts for the platform.

What does that say about the future of both platforms? Now that you can get an iPhone 3GS free on contract and an older iPhone 4 for only $99, we should start to see the iPhone being bought by people that just want a smartphone, and that usually means a user that won't be downloading a bunch of apps every week to see what's new.

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