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

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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.

28 Responses to “Long Tail of iPhone Apps Is Extra Long — and Not In a Good Way”

  1. I see an important hurdle to individual APP authors taking a larger share : the one with the idea for a ‘killer APP’ is not necessarily the one with development skills. Is there a virtual platform where one can, IN CONFIDENCE, get acquainted with a developer, share the costs and an proceeds?

  2. I read the graph very differently :

    It seems that about 120 apps had more than 100k users (that’s only 0,2%)

    and 120+320 = 440 apps had more than 10k users (that’s less than 1%)

    Finally, keep in mind that most apps serving admob ads are Free apps !!!

  3. Jacob Varghese

    The problem here is that the iTunes app store does not allow software companies/developers to market – to purchase text ads, banner ads, buy sponsored ranking based on app search..

    Some of those marketing tools are needed for the app store to continue to grow as a valuable marketplace.

    • Ian Morison

      Right, and the App Store’s monopoly means that all sorts of marketing/distribution channels are stunted. Once again, Apple screws its developers, retailers, etc. Why doesn’t anyone notice this? When is the FTC going to?

    • C Erickson

      That’s BS. The same marketing tools as one would use for a Mac OS X application, or, for that matter, a windows application, are just as available for an iPhone application.

      • Ian Morison

        Okay, I want to sell my iPhone app on Amazon, MacMall, and NewEgg. I want to sell my crop rotation app on I want to sell my app on my own website. Suggestions? I also don’t want to give Apple a 30% vig. I can do all these things with Mac software, though if Apple had it to do over again, I’m sure they’d have closed up the Mac software market tighter than North Korea too.

        The structure of the App Store is dictated by Apple, including all its limitations, and this has a direct bearing on one’s ability to sell copies of an app, which is the point of this article. And this is aside from all the mindblowing nonsense over the app approval process.

        People should making excuses for Apple’s theocratic tendencies. If Microsoft pulled this, they’d be hauled back into court.

    • Uh…wrong. I’ve seen ads for iPhone apps on websites. Wander over to AppCraver and look down the right-hand side and you’ll see ads for various apps.

      That said, there’s no way to advertise your app within the iTunes store. No way to buy a “sponsor” link, a la Google, so if someone searches for “Shopping List” they’ll get a link to your app in a prominent place.

  4. The catch phrase ‘only to apps serving ads from AdMob’ what about those not serving ads – can they be monitored?

    In other words the data presented are skewed.

    In other words whatever tail you are referring to is non existent.

  5. The catch phrase ‘only to apps serving ads from AdMob’ what about those not serving ads – can they be monitored?

    In other words the data presented are skewed.

    In other words whatever tail you are referring to is non existent.

  6. I don’t know. Just because Wal-Mart puts your product on a store shelf, doesn’t mean your work is done. The marketing and promotion work starts. When a developer puts an app in iTunes, another set of really hard work begins: promoting your app. I’d argue that most developers aren’t ready for that part. Everyone can’t rely on Apple to put it on the front page or national television, no matter how cool it is.

    What about apps that use ads from The Deck? I wonder what their long tail looks like.

  7. Ad inventory isn’t going to explode as quickly as when Mosaic came out in early 90s. When you’re talking mass adoption, using your phone to browse is still a new experience.

    The fact that you need promotion to break out of a crowded market isn’t a surprise, it’s proven and intuitive. But I also agree it’s a very small universe to draw broad conclusions.

  8. I think the data is simply too limited and skewed to draw any serious conclusions. A better headline would be:

    AdMob Mobile Apps Customers See Small Audiences Across A Long Tail

  9. AdMob has an excellent team – as does Greystripe – and i wish them all well as Google rolls out a larger beta for mobile adsense within app platforms (initially iphone and android) – just not sure how these startups are going to deliver that kind of inventory AND analytics platform….in one year, i suspect that you’ll be able to write an article like this with much richer data via google mobile adsense pr! ;)