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Summary:

Android users have about 250,000 apps to choose from but most have little use for any of them outside the top 50. New data from Nielsen found that 61 percent of the time spent on apps by Android users are in the top 50 apps.

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Android users have about 250,000 apps to choose from but most have little use for any of them outside the top 50. That’s according to new data from Nielsen’s Smartphone Analytics, a new initiative that analyzes data from on-device meters.

The interesting news is that the top 10 Android apps account for 43 percent of the time spent on all mobile apps by Android users. And when you look at the top 50 apps, 61 percent of the time spent is on these apps. That means that if you’re an app maker on Android, you’re facing long odds at being used if you’re even in the bottom half of the top 100. And if you’re lost among the rest of the 249,550 apps, good luck getting any usage.

This backs up data that I recently reported from Mobilewalla, an app ratings analytics and discovery firm. Mobilewalla found that the top 30 apps in Android Market had between 11,000 and 20,000 ratings compared to about 6,000 ratings for the top 30 apps in the Apple App Store. But when you looked at the next 210 apps beyond the top 30, Android’s average ratings per app plummeted to just a few hundred per app while Apple’s ratings counts remained between 2,000 and 6,000. That showed that app usage on Android was clustered at the top of the app charts but didn’t extend down to less popular apps.

The growing picture here is that Android has a real issue in making sure that more developers can thrive in the Android Market. If you’re a developer and you can’t afford to pay for marketing or you don’t have some amazing viral hit, it looks like it’s very hard to get your app used and that makes it hard to crack profitability on Android for all but the biggest apps. If you’re not being used that often, you can’t expect to garner that much in advertising or in-app purchases.

This is part of the reason why developers prefer Apple’s App Store, because it’s better place to make money. It’s still hard to get noticed among the 425,000 apps there but iOS users seem to explore more of the apps outside the top charts. That means developers get more in download revenue and more through other monetization tools. And that’s why Apple can boast about cutting a check of $2.5 billion to developers because it’s opening up broader opportunities for more developers.

Google has done a lot of work to improve the app experience in Android Market but it’s got to do a better job of aiding in discovery. And Android developers need to keep pushing the quality of apps in Android Market so people take note of not just the top apps. With developers increasingly getting their revenue from freemium apps, which now generates 2/3 of the revenue in the top 100 games on iOS, it’s even more important for developers to get their apps used and to have longer term engagement with users. That’s something Google still needs to keep working on with its developers to ensure that the success of Android Market is not only limited to a few top publishers.

Nielsen also found that the average Android users in the U.S. spends 56 minutes a day using the web and apps on their phone. Android users spend 67 percent of their time in apps compared to 33 percent using the web. That appears consistent with recent findings from analytics firm Flurry, which found that minutes spent on mobile apps eclipsed mobile web usage on smartphones for the first time in June. 

  1. This is so true.. the reason is probably because there are too much apps yet there are not enough flexibilities on the Android Market.

    For example, I always look into apps that are having a one-day-deal when I was using my iPhone. This way, we were more exposed into different apps compared to Android’s

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  2. I’ve started removing the vast majority of apps from my phone. I’m tired of updating them and I’ve come to realize that I don’t even use 90% of them. If I really need something, it takes just a second to download it.

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  3. That is a very interesting article but the writer left out one very important difference. You don’t have to use the Android app store to have your application download to an Android device. You can market your product and brand back to your website and users can download the app directly from there. In this case you might not get the thousand plus reviews but you are also not competing against 250,000 app to get discovered.

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    1. I agree, that’s a difference with Android Market, the fact that there are alternatives to distribution. But if you look at the Nielsen data, which looks at what end users are actually doing on their devices, it doesn’t seem like these channels are getting people to use a lot of apps that aren’t already popular. Perhaps over time, we’ll see that.

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  4. Maybe there are just too many apps? Apple US$ 2.5 billion pay out sounds big, but if you divide it by about 300,000 apps (I understand 20-30% of the apps in Apples App store are free) that is well below 10K per app, and I think that figure is for the total life of the App Store. Given that some apps earn a lot more than US$10K, some apps there are not really earning all that much.

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  5. @ John Keane

    While what you say is true however it is obviously in the app maker’s interest for their app to be visible in the android app store. Boradly speaking, people are more likely to download an app from the app store than direct from a website due to the trust that is inherent from an app being on the appstore.

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  6. What an unfair article. For this to be valid and unbiased, you need to offer the same view from the apple side of app usage. I would assume the same percentage goes for them also. Apple has more apps, but I suspect apple users spend most of their time on the same top 50, just like android. Fanboy.

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    1. Yeah, we’ll be waiting to see what Nielsen has to say about IOS apps. But the data from Mobilewalla I cite suggests that iOS users spread their usage out among more apps. Nielsen might find otherwise and we’ll report whatever they come up with.

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  7. Why is the such a surprise? It’s the age old “80/20″ rule….Plus, who actually “browses” apps? You want something, you go search for it or you see an ad for one and you go download it, to TJ’s point. I want to see the shift from App usage to Mobile web over the past 2 Q’s. Now that would be industry changing news!

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  8. Isn’t it much more difficult to get your app published in the iTunes App Store than Android Market? Ryan touched on this toward the end of the article, but I think a significant factor is the quality of the app.

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  9. The app store concept is one which seems to encourage both aspects of a ‘long-tail’. It’s inevitable that there’ll be reinforcement at the winners’ end and most people will only use the top 10-50 apps. Those apps will make money, they’ll be well developed and tested, people will be happy. But what I’m concerned about is how will people will find out about all of those things that they would find useful in the ‘tail’. It sounds cheesy but Apple’s “there’s an app for that” is exactly what’s missing from the Android brand.

    As an Android app developer and user (but certainly no died in the wool Android advocate) I don’t really buy the ‘quality’ argument as to why purchases and discovery are poorer than on iOS. I’m yet to experience an app that I’ve downloaded (free or paid) that is unreliable or incomplete except for those which are obviously engineering tests and which state very clearly “this is a BETA version designed to test XYZ, use at your own risk” etc. I’m sure they exist but they’re not what a typical user is exposed to. (I do see the irony there)

    However, as a developer I often feel really frustrated with this side of the market. Firstly, there is no way to offer ANYONE a free copy of the app, a real copy. I can actually send people the app but because it didn’t come via the market they can’t update it, plus they have to enable ‘3rd party installs’ which for our specific market might be quite foreign to them; do they want to open up their phone to some group who they only know via email? But more than that, we can’t offer any kind of promotion. There’s no way to offer targeted discounts or sales and it’s very frustrating. We’d love to be collaborating with our favourite magazines, websites and podcasts in the community we target but all we could do is pay for advertising and hope it’s successful. It would be so much more useful if we could offer coupons etc and know where people were arriving from. I can’t speak for everyone involved but at this stage I’d give the app away for free just to get a user base that wanted to use the app, offer suggestions and were passionate. However, we don’t want to make the app free for everyone as the extra load on the support team won’t necessarily come from our intended target market. We want a certain type of customer to receive it for free, we can already identify those people, we just can’t do it!

    Then there’s the market app itself. The current version on any non-honeycomb phone is plain rubbish.(99.9% of the market as of today – that’s according to Google’s developer dashboard) How a user could feel confident that they were going to get a high quality polished app in such a poorly designed, ugly and quite frankly, buggy, environment is beyond me. Faced with the same market I would probably just chose the app that had the most downloads too. If Google can’t even make something right what chance does David Inc. have?

    Finally, Google’s commitment to the market they’ve established seems really poor. I’ve never seen advertisements here in Sweden telling me about the gems in the Android market. Nor even telling me about the well designed top 50! Whilst it’s not their responsibility to sell the phones it is their responsibility to look after the Android brand. And today I’m not sure they’re doing that well.

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  10. The other possibility is that Android users are simply different from iOS users. The tight Google integration is a huge selling point, but once you have that you’re likely to add a few things like Facebook, Twitter, etc. And then? If you bought a smartphone for access to messaging, email and things like GPS and nav, you’re pretty much there with ~10-40 apps.

    Let’s face it, the figures of hundreds of thousands of apps have long since ceased to have any real meaning. I’d bet that once the app count passed 10k or so there were very few apps that offered something truly new.

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