The Dirty Little Secret of Apple's App Store



Earlier today, the guys from Skyhook Wireless sent me their latest location-aware applications report. The first thing I noticed was a sharp decline in the number of location-aware apps during the months of May and June 2009. Why? Because of something known as Bulk Apps — the dirty little secret of Apple’s (s aapl) App Store. [digg=]


These are typically local search or travel apps written by a single publisher. Molinker is one such example. It pulls content from Wikipedia and Flickr for a country or travel destination and renders it for viewing offline. Molinker offers more than 800 of such applications, at 99 cents a pop. Another bulk apps provider is GP Apps; it has 380-plus apps, each of which essentially takes a search word and marries it to Google Maps.

The presence of these bulk applications makes you wonder how real the 65,000 applications (in the Apple iTunes App Store) number is. It certainly makes me wonder about the data that was released earlier this week. I have reached out to Apple, asking them to clarify exactly how they count these applications.

Either way, the question is: Should Apple count these 850 applications as separate apps or as a single one? I, for one, believe that all template-based apps should be counted as one. What do you guys think?



If they are to be counted as one app, then they should all be sold together and the price adjusted to $850.


I have developed a template to skin marketing over a Twitter feed. They would be customized template-based applications, and serve a distinct client and need. Is that a single app? No. Is it a template? Yes.

The distinction is unimportant in the sense that it is like scripting. Mobile applications combine many elements including web features to provide a more capable widget. Certainly, you are looking for a number of applications, but without refinement, the question becomes meaningless and the data inaccurate.

We all know there are too many fart apps! But, they contribute to the total number none-the-less. As somebody says, the only metric that matters is personal need.

Gerald Buckley

Separate apps. Each one stands on its own two bits. Imagine if someone came asking about your network of sites and asked “How many uniques do you have?” Are you going to count me six times for all the sites I hit or just the once?

How many books does Amazon (or Borders or xyz bookseller) carry? Sure Fodor’s has 19 gazillion little books on obscure destinations… THEY’RE getting counted when Amazon, et al report how many books they carry.

Same thing. Bloat to be sure. But, same thing.

Oleg Kokorin

Wow, now we have app spamming! We should forget about the 65K+ number then. Whatever Apple reports about # of apps isn’t worth talking about. Maybe the 1b downloads number is some “advanced accounting practice” too.


You’re hedging a line – where do you draw a distinction? Are all apps written in C# the same app? What about all ES’s NFS racers which seem grossely derivative of one another? Perhaps the line can be drawn when the executable remains the same, but then what about something like SIMs where people pay for add-ons that are purely graphic files, or World of Warcraft which is a Lua interpreter, and the “game code” isn’t part of the executable.

Slippery slope – I think what’s more important is whether or not claming you have 65,000, a million or a billion of something makes it better or worse than your competitors. The same logic can be used with the iTunes store – they have a few million songs, but how many are cover’s of Beetles songs? Should they be counted as one song?


If you pay for the app it is a distinct app and should be counted seperately. Number of independent apps is irrellevant anyway. No one’s denying the 1.5 billion down loads. Who really cares if Apple has 15K apps or 65k apps. What matters IMHO is the 1.5 billion down loads.

Jan Dawson

The new in-app purchase model should do away with the need to do this. Previously you had to release separate apps for separate cities for travel guides because it was the only way to allow people to pay for only what they needed. Apple should probably go back to all these companies and ask them to create single apps with in-app purchases for additional cities/countries/whatever to reduce the clutter in the App Store.


Many iphone users install 100s of free apps cause they have nothing better to do. But the real dirty fact behind iphone apps, is that probably only very few apps are actually used by users. Most free iphone apps are tried once and never used again.


Is this a “burning issue” – come on – let’s move to something with depth.


Even if 90% of the apps is fluff that still leaves 6500 good apps.

Replying to someone saying that 50,000 apps in the app store are junk a columnist in ZDnet replied that it still leaves Apple with several thousand more good apps than they other phone makers. It’s also bizarre that so many people think that a competitor with fewer apps say a few hundred then they’re all good and none is junk or fluff. That’s illogical.


It’s no secret that of the 65,000 iPhone apps 63,231 are “fart apps”


Those 800 apps are as real as the many apps like All Things D, which are essentially single feed feedreaders. How many more apps are repackaged web sites with slightly nicer interfaces?

When I see one of those “There’s an app for that” commercial, I think, “Yeah, it’s called a web browser.”


Once the # of the apps goes into tens of thousands, the rest is just a number. It is up to the developer to decide how to package and sell their apps; Apple does not care nor am I. Let’s find something more substantive to talk about the app store.


Not that significant a point in my opinion. Anyone with an ounce of brains knows that the number of available apps from Apple’s App store is padded generously by accounting practices like this.

I think the number most people are more fixated on is 1.5 billion apps downloaded. That’s a number worth bragging about. This is what investors care about. Actually, what investors really care about is the amount of revenue generated by these 1.5 billion downloads. That’s the number I’d like to see as well. How many are free downloads that bring no incremental revenue and how many are paid for?

Andy O.

I agree with most of the comments — who really cares how many apps there are? I care more about Apple working on improving the organization of the store so that good applications can be found.

One point about Om’s post — he stated that a) the number of location aware apps dropped and that b) there exists a large number of bulk apps. However he didn’t connect a to b. Is the unstated connection the fact that the new 3.0 OS allows subscription-based apps, and that therefore developers may be releasing apps that users can ‘bulk’ themselves internally. Other than losing shelf space, the subscription method makes more sense for both the user and developer.

Apple should list apps by business model or content type as well (not category like health and travel, but things like weekly subscription or additional content purchases available).


The success of the app store will always a qualitative measure, the sheer number of apps has nothing to do with the quality of the few apps that make the iPhone a memorable experieince and keep users coming back. The number of apps didn’t make the iPhone a success, the quality did .. so who cares?

MIchael Brian Bentley

When you break them down, describe what they really are. Calling them all ‘apps’ may not be sufficient for all intents and purposes.



In my opinion, they should be treated as separate apps. Each of them is bringing its own revenue, has its own install/remove stats. To me its more like Gigaom Network or Glam network or Sugar websites.

Bryan Barletta

I see your point in questioning whether or not these apps should be considered part of the 58,290 (according to currently on the store.

With that being said, your generalization on ruling out template based apps is really dangerous.

There are about a dozen companies out there right now who offer a platform/template service for easy app development. These companies publish the apps directly through the platform, showing one unified publisher. Their process makes it very easy for someone new to the space to make an app that fits their needs and purpose, allowing them to truly test the waters of the App Store. Many of them look the same and perform similar functions, but to the clients, it’s their own “unique” app.

I think what you’re referring to would be considered “spamming” the App Store.


Bryan Barletta / @BryanNO


I would really like to see these apps banned as they clutter the AppStore. Try scrolling through a list of new apps and having to go through hundreds of these. So yes, count them as one and they should be listed as one. Maybe have these devs provide ONE app and sell their updates.


Very good find.
These apps can help those who cannot search the content on wikipedia or just cannot “google it”.
I would add the fart apps and such to this list plus the Traffic apps for each city , weather app for each city ..
Which boils down to few really important apps.

You can do all the search weather , search flickr photos by using the SAFARI browser why bother with these APPS.

Which makes me conclude that the average iPhone user ( or any other phone user wanting “APPS” for basic internet searches ) is not really a smart phone user !!!!!.


I don’t think it’s a relevant question. The only ones who actually care about those numbers are media types. Normal people just want things that meet their needs. The number of apps is irrelevant.


Thanks for the evidence of something we’ve all suspected. Some of the iphone apps are just fluff and most are probable not that great.

However, if they’re submitted separately, approved separately and installed separately, then each one is an app.


Bah… who cares, really? Once you’re in the thousands there are more apps than you’re going to use anyway. A little numbers padding is just noise. The real question is: does the app you need exist?


What do I think? I think that Apple can count them however it wants and let the consumers decide.

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