Angry Birds Aside, Think Globally, Act Locally When It Comes To Mobile Apps

There’s no question that apps have become a global phenomenon in the mobile world — and who doesn’t want to catapult a cute red bird onto some logs to kill a pig? But not all apps are as wildly successful as Angry Birds. So just as importantly, when it comes to what kind of apps sell best, publishers would do well to remember to think locally — especially in certain markets like Asia, according to research from Distimo.

The biggest app stores are now tipping the half-million mark in terms of overall inventory, but a recent report from the app analytics firm found that when it comes to the most popular apps, consumers often gravitate to content published especially for their markets. In the biggest store of all — the App Store from Apple — on average, nearly one-third of the most popular apps in each country store — 27 percent — were unique to those stores.

Distimo notes that the U.S. — at 7,158 apps — has the most exclusively published apps in its App Store. No surprise, really, given this is where so many developers are based and where so many hope to find success first before trying elsewhere.

Looking at worldwide trends, language also plays a big role.

Taking the U.S., UK, Canada and Australia, these countries’ top apps overlap 54 percent of the time. Although Latin America does not seem to get ranked by Distimo, you can imagine that it too would see a similar trend. The storewide average overlap is 33 percent.

On the other hand, countries with the highest number of localized apps in the top rankings marry two important trends: they have very mobile-friendly consumers, and they are countries where English is not the first language.

Japan topped the list with 67 percent of its most popular apps being popular in that country alone. China, where Apple launched a country-specific App Store in October 2010, came in second with 56 percent of most popular apps specific to the China App Store.

Is there a limit to how many local apps have a chance against the world-wide bestsellers like Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja? For now, it appears the answer is yes. Distimo notes that one-third local seems to be the general number for local apps’ popularity across all platforms, not just Apple’s.

Nokia’s Ovi Store, for example, has significantly more country-specific apps than other app stores — 29.4 percent for Ovi with Apple the next-highest proportion at only 5.2 percent — but Distimo notes that the number of local apps that make it into the top rankings are roughly the same as for the App Store and the Android Market, despite Apple’s and Google’s catalogs having far fewer local apps.

That could spell an opportunity for those developers looking to have more visibility among users in specific markets.

You can see that trend playing out especially in China. Platforms like Android are seeing the creation of full-out local app stores to compete with the Android Market, catering to those using devices built on the OS, with app stores from the likes of Baidu (NSDQ: BIDU) and Tencent.

There have also been a number of companies setting up shop to help localize apps from, say, the U.S. market for the Chinese market. The most recent of these was an effort from the DIY app platform Mobile Roadie, which as partnered with local mobile agency FabriQate to launch Q Mobao to help Western developers create iOS and Android apps for the Chinese market. It has also launched a similar initiative in South Korea.

Targeting specific markets is not just about local content, of course.

Last week IDC published figures (via Bloomberg) for smartphone market share in India, and it turns out that Apple has only a tiny part of the market in that country, shipping just over 62,000 iPhones to India in the last quarter, less than it shipped to Norway. That gives Apple a 2.6 percent share of the smartphone market in India. Nokia (NYSE: NOK) currently enjoys the biggest share of the market in India, with 46 percent.

With India the second-largest mobile market after China, that is a big miss for Apple (NSDQ: AAPL). IDC notes that part of the issue has been a lack of widespread 3G network for fast mobile data services. Although users can still connect by WiFi, that’s an impractical solution for a person on the move.