Long Tail of iPhone Apps Is Extra Long — and Not In a Good Way

Only 19 percent of iPhone/iPod Touch applications in the AdMob network had more than 10,000 users in May, and a mere 5 percent had more than 100,000 users, according to the mobile ad network’s latest Mobile Metrics report. With more than 50,000 apps available on the iPhone, the long tail is in full effect — but even so, the steepness of the curve is impressive. More than half of the apps in the AdMob network had fewer than 1,000 users in May.

The data in question does not apply to the App Store as a whole, only to apps serving ads from AdMob, but given the lack of any other hard data, this is what we must work with. It’s clear that many apps just aren’t taking off with consumers, either because they’re are bad, brand new, very old or niche applications, or because they just haven’t gotten enough promotion. Or, perhaps, with 50,000 apps in the store, the paradox of choice plays a role — there may simply be too much to choose from, so Apps can’t pull away from the pack. But this was true last year as well, when the store had just opened. Regardless, I suspect the success of a particular app relies on one of three things:

  • You are already a huge, successful company, expanding on an existing product. See: AIM, Facebook, ESPN.
  • Apple (s aapl) decides your app is worth promoting on the front page of the App Store.
  • Your app is really good, and all your users rave to their friends about it.

To be sure, the App Store lets developers tap into a massive network of users — more than 40 million App Store-capable devices have been sold so far — but given the sheer number of apps, it is hugely difficult for any one of them to break out and be a smash success without serious help.