Blog Post

1B Apps Served, One Disappointing Revenue Total for Apple

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!


Apple (s aapl) made quite the fuss about the App Store download total reaching the 1 billion milestone, complete with a contest and what was probably a fairly expensive advertising campaign. It seemed appropriate at the time, but I’m now wondering if promoting the landmark achievement didn’t cost more than it was actually worth.

Jeremy Liew, the managing director of Lightspeed Venture Partners, reported in a blog post that, according to his estimates, Apple couldn’t have made more than between $20 million and $45 million on all those apps. That’s not a whole heck of a lot, when you consider that maintenance and advertising could carry a hefty expense.

Liew talked to developers and others in the industry to arrive at a rough estimate of what the ratio of paid to non-paid apps in the App Store was, and came up with between 1:15 and 1:40. He then used O’Reilly’s recent survey about the mean price for apps, which is $2.65 (which he points out is probably much higher than the weighted average mean), and then multiplies that by 25 million to 50 million paid apps, what you get when you apply the ratio estimates Liew arrived at in the beginning.

Total revenue for all paid apps would then fall between $70 million and $160 million. Apple, according to its revenue-sharing model, then gets 30 percent of that, leaving it with between $20 million and $45 million. Liew also notes that if you do the same calculations with a weighted average app price of around $1.50, which is probably closer to the truth, the number drops to only $12 million to $27 million. $12 million probably doesn’t even cover the App Store’s advertising budget to date, let alone operational costs.

There are a lot of speculative numbers there, but even given the generous range of revenue possibility, that would mean the App Store is far from being a cash cow for Apple. It would, at best, be a minor direct contributor to its bottom line, and at worst actually an income drain that costs more to run than it takes in. Of course, even if it is operating at a small loss, that’s to be expected for a venture in its first year, so Apple wouldn’t really be acting out of the norm there. Sony sold its PS3 consoles at a loss initially, counting on the software revenue to cover the difference.

Apple seems to be doing just the opposite. If Liew is correct, it’s using the App Store as an incentive to get buyers to pay up for iPhone and iPod touch hardware, which is where the real money is made. That’s great news for us Apple consumers, because as long as the store keeps bringing in hardware buyers, Apple will make sure developers get lots of new hardware feature updates to play with to entice those buyers.

23 Responses to “1B Apps Served, One Disappointing Revenue Total for Apple”

  1. I build Paid App and submitted to AppStore , my app was around 3.99$, I got few downloads, I passed my app to 1.99$, I got the same number of downloads, I switched my app to FREE version with mobile ads finally i got 3 times the 1st revenue

    if someone is looking to make money with his app, the best way is to provide it to the EndUser for FREE with mobile ads

    iPhone Advertising SDK for publisher / developer :

  2. I am a developer that has a couple of apps on the app store and I pay $99 per year to apple to be able to submit apps to the iphone. With all the developers out there I am sure this covers the upkeep of the appstore.


  3. dave W

    Better than Microsoft Entertainment and Devices Division LOSING 31 million last quarter!

    last quarter (reported in April 09) Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division which includes download services like Xbox Live

    PLUS Zune, all MS devices like keyboards mice joysticks etc, all the Games studios, Windows Mobile and all Xbox hardware…

    LOST 31 million!!!

    Blog after blog dissing App Store revenues this morning but comparing to MS E&D Apple’s less than one year old App Store suddenly doesn’t look so bad, in fact it looks stella!

    Msft E&D is roughly equal to the App Store, iTunes, iPod and iPhone, Apple TV and all Apple keyboards etc

    looks like fresh new little App Store outperforming the whole dam MS division!

  4. Maybe he forgot that each developer has to plunk down $99 just to release a Free App!!!… Does anyone know how many developers there are out there??

  5. Gregg

    It depends on how you look at things. If the app store has positive cash flow after all things are considered, I think its a plus. It brings about a lot of exposure to the company and provides an easy way to purchase and manage applications. Understanding that there are a lot of free applications, it is also necessary to take into consideration the fact that there are numerous apps that cost $5 – $10 as well. When you cost average everything, I bet the store has done way more than $20 – $45 million in sales. Another unknown factor is how many of the billion apps downloaded were multiple downloads. In other words, how many people delete a free app and then download it again at some later point. At any rate, if apple adds $1,000,000 to the bottom line after expenses, its a benefit to the overall health of the company.

  6. Gazoobee

    @ Josh: Sorry, I guess I do complain a lot, and I should probably just leave, but the *comments* on the Apple Blog really are more insightful most of the time than the so-called “articles” of the authors.

    I don’t know who’s behind this whole AppleBlog thing, but surely there must be *some* people out there who would be willing to write for it that actually *know* something and also know how to write.

    Other than Tom, who’s blog I followed before, and who’s move to AppleBlog was how I discovered the place, most of the articles here are just dumb high-school level stuff. As I said, I come here mostly for the comments because they are actually insightful and interesting (well sometimes).

  7. I think the only salient point made here is in the last paragraph. Of course Apple pushes the App store for the purpose of selling hardware. Anyone thinking that Apple is trying to generate real revenue from the actual sale of apps is kidding themselves and not thinking big enough.

    Why push hard for 30% of $.99 when you can use the excitement of the store to garner the considerable profit off of 30+ million iPhones and iPod Touch devices.


  8. @Gazoobee: I still think there is value is discussion around this. Of course you don’t approve of it, but as you can see, other commenters have jumped on board with talking about this and not just complaining.

  9. Andrew

    The absolutely hilarious perspective on all this is that ALL of Apple’s competitors are falling over themselves to produce App Store competitors. And if Apple isn’t making any money at it at a billion apps downloaded, then it is unlikely that anyone else is going to fare significantly better. More likely that they’ll all be losing money on their stores.

    Nicely played, Apple!

  10. Why dont you ask your self the following question. Did Apple made the App store in order to earn money? If you think so then (sorry) but you are dumb.:) Apple dont care at all about app store instead, they care more about the people that using the app store because on the future when the new iphone releases it will have double or triple sales than the 3G.

  11. adamjackson

    Steve has said many times that they don’t make any money on the iTunes Store and he’s quoted as saying it’s only purpose is to drive the sales of iPods which everyone knows has a huge profit margin.

    Doesn’t apple only spend 30% of the retail price on the parts alone, maybe another 20% for R&D, packaging, marketing so a $200 iPod is $100 in cash profit and you multiply that by thousands!

    So a $699 iPhone after $200 in parts and other stuff makes apple millions over the course of a few million iPhones. the app store just drives the sale of iPhones.

  12. The App Store is what’s making iPhone sales. The money from the App Store is gravy. I don’t know about you, but I think $20 mil is some nice gravy.

  13. Gazoobee

    “There are a lot of speculative numbers there …”

    This is probably the truest statement in the article. When the entire house of cards is based on an original estimate of revenue that ranges from 70 million to more than *double* that figure, then nothing after that is worth talking about.

    This is just a bunch of talk about “probabilities” based on nothing at all. It’s like talking about car efficiency when all you have to go on is that the car gets “somewhere” between 10 and 100 miles to the gallon. It’s an estimate of a probability of an estimate of an approximation based on nothing.

  14. While this is an interesting intellectual exercise, the fact of the matter is that Apple isn’t in the business of selling apps … they’re in the business of selling iPhones. Apps draw people to iPhones. While I’m sure Apple would be happy to see revenue from apps rise, I can’t imagine that’s front and center.

  15. Brian King

    I doubt Apple cares all that much about the income from the App Store — so long as it’s not much of a drain. It is, for many, the best reason to buy an iPhone or iTouch, and that’s where the money is. It’s just like iTunes. Apple has said it runs only slightly in the black, and that’s ok. iTunes is designed to drive iPod sales, and it has done so very effectively. Same with the App store.