Google(s goog) Android will not only account for the majority of an expected 56 billion smartphone app downloads this year, but it will be the primary platform of choice for many more mobile app developers. So says ABI Research, which published on Monday its 2013 forecast of mobile app downloads by platform for both smartphones and tablets.
Android is bigger for phone apps, but Apple owns the tablet app market
Android app downloads on phones will consume 58 percent of the market this year, while programs for Apple’s iPhone(s aapl) will account for 33 percent. Windows Phone(s msft) at 4 percent and BlackBerry(s bbry) capturing 3 percent will make up the total, according to ABI. The tables will turn on tablets, however, as ABI expects Apple’s iPad to commandeer three-fourths of the 14 billion mobile app downloads for tablets in 2013. Not counting Amazon’s(s AMZN) tablets, Android will only pick up 17 percent of the tablet app market.
So why might Android be the first choice of smartphone app developers this year? Because of “its vast installed base and the generally improved conditions for app building,” according to the ABI report. I’m not so sure, and I say that as someone who uses multiple platforms but generally relies on Google’s products.
There’s certainly no debate over which smartphone platform is outpacing the other. While Apple had a blockbuster first fiscal quarter with 46.7 million iPhones sold, Google activates more than 1.3 million Android devices per day as of six months ago. Based on sales estimates, most of those are phones, not tablets. All evidence points to Android phones outselling iPhones by some amount.
But that’s been the case for some time and very few top-tier apps have arrived first on Android phones. The best I’ve really seen is more simultaneous releases for iOS and Android. Not much has changed, even though Android is the smartphone market sales leader. So why does ABI suspect phone sales volumes will suddenly matter in 2013?
It is possible that Android’s development tools are improving enough to cause some mobile app shops to reconsider their iOS-first approach. There’s another challenge that’s part of the equation, however: The price that smartphone owners are willing to pay for apps on their platform of choice.
Simply put: Data suggests that iPhone owners are still willing to pay more for an app. The Wall Street Journal emphasizes this point today in article on app economics:
“As of the end of 2012, the average price for a paid app in the Apple app store was $3.18 on an iPhone and $4.44 on an iPad, according to research firm Distimo. That compares with an average $3.06 in the Google Play store and $2.84 on Amazon Inc.’s app store.”
Sure, developers can make up any shortfall in a lower per-unit price through volumes but if that were the secret sauce, it would have started when Android overtook iOS in smartphone market share.
Tablets can influence the smartphone app market
ABI’s tablet data also adds to my skepticism of an Android-first approach. If Apple has a large majority of tablets, I’d argue it actually makes iOS more desirable as the development platform of choice. Why? Because of Apple’s universal app approach that allow developers to create one app that essentially works on both iPhones and iPads.
Android apps can be developed with a similar approach, but I find that few Android tablet apps are as good as their phone counterparts. Either developers aren’t taking advantage of Google’s development tools or they’re just stymied by the many resolutions found on Android tablets.
In either case, while some mobile app developers will choose Android before iOS in 2013, I don’t think we’ll see a big shift this year, barring any major Android developments that cause app owners to pay a little more for mobile software.