Inside The App Stores: Apple, Android & The Hottest App You've Never Heard Of

What app broke through to become one of the most popular in 2012? If you live outside Asia, chances are you've never heard of it: Naver's Line Pop, a matching game that an analyst report this week estimated at 1.75 million downloads in just over 72 hours.

Line Pop's success overshadowed the success of Draw Something, 2012's other most-talked about app. Draw Something reached 1 million users in 9 days early in 2012, and was instrumental in convincing Zynga to spend $180 million to acquire developer Omgpop.

The report this week by Distimo attempted the chart the success of apps residing on the two most popular platforms: Google's Android app store, Google Play, and Apple's iOS App Store. Unfortunately, the year-end look didn't touch on smaller, less popular app platforms such as RIM's BlackBerry Store or Amazon's own powerful rival to Google Play. (Although one can dismiss BlackBerry's waning influence, and the nascent Windows Phone/Windows 8 stores, it would have been interesting to see how Amazon influenced Google Play, and especially how its store affected downloads and revenue for the Android platform.)

But the report does lay out an interesting smorgasbord of data that developers should digest over the holidays, including one worrying trend: Fewer apps are generating more revenue, meaning that the bulk of app store revenues are consolidating within fewer and fewer apps. That's great news if you have one of the few hits, but a real challenge for everyone else.

The report indicates that both Google Play and Apple's iOS are growing strongly, though Apple's iOS platform still generates more revenue. Distimo also showed that some countries heavily skew either toward or away from tablets.

Google Play Still Trails Apple

Both Apple's App Store and Google Play now have about the same number of apps, roughly 700,000, but Android smartphone penetration is much higher: 52.5% of all U.S. smartphones, according to comScore, versus 34.3% for Apple.

Distimo's report also shows that daily revenues from Google Play are on the rise, increasing 43% over the last four months, an impressive figure for any company. During the same period, Apple's App Store grew only 21%. 

But Apple's app-store revenues started from a much stronger base; while the Distimo report doesn't mention specific numbers, Apple claimed in January that revenue from the App Store and its iBookstore business hit $2.03 billion. Since January, Apple's app store revenues alone grew 51%, Distimo said.

On a typical day in November 2012,  Apple App Store revenue exceeded $15 million, Distimo found, while in Google Play the revenues were just below $3.5 million, measured across 20 of the largest countries in both app stores. The U.S., Japan, the UK and Australia generated the most app revenue.

The implication is clear: although Apple's market share is smaller than Android's, app developers still make more money developing for the iOS platform. 

Hit-Driven App Consolidation

That doesn't mean that app developers will find guaranteed success in any one store, however. Distimo found that just seven hit applications earned 10% of the revenues in November 2012 in the Apple App Store for iPhone, which is a "significantly lower number of applications than in January 2012." With the iPad, just six apps were responsible for 10% of the revenues, while in Google Play only four apps generated 10% of the revenue. Clearly, the window to make it big is shrinking - even as the rewards for do so continue to grow.

Before (and presumably after) Apple launched its free iOS Maps service, navigation apps pulled in an average of $11.56 apiece on the iPad, and $7.25 on the iPhone, the most revenue per app any category made. On the iPad, business and productivity apps followed closely behind, while the same categories clustered together on the iPhone, with news and travel apps in the mix. 

Overall, however, games were the clear winner, sucking up a third of the downloads and even more of the revenue across both Google Play and iOS combined. The second-place category, widgets, was far behind at 8%.

Interestingly, Distimo found that the average price for an app was higher on Google Play than on iPhone-specific apps. 

And how did developers make money? Looking at the Apple app store alone, Distimo found that in-app revenue grew from 53% to 69% from January to November. The exceptions were developers that could convince buyers to purchase apps up front: games, for example, like "Minecraft: Pocket Edition." Apple, the most popular publisher of apps on the iOS app store by download, chose this route with apps like GarageBand. 

Russia Loves Tablets, Japan Doesn't

Perhaps reinforcing the stereotype that the Japanese prefer small, dainty objects, Distimo's geographic breakdown of app purchases provides new insight on how various country view tablet apps. The country with the highest tablet proclivity is Russia, where 46% of all iOS downloads were on the iPad, followed by The Netherlands and Finland with 38% and 35%, respectively. Japan is the country with the least tablet proclivity, as only 7% of all iOS downloads are iPad apps, Distimo wrote. But the firm also ranked Japan second in terms of the growth seen in purchasing iPad apps, at 112% over the last four months. 

Some 24% of the apps Americans purchased were for the iPhone, versus the iPad, Distimo found.

How To Make $$$ Developing Apps

For now, Distimo's report suggests this: The odds of striking it rich as a mobile app developer are tiny, and the safest bet is to design either a game or a productivity app for the iPhone. 

There's also one other thing to consider, that Distimo doesn't: Draw Something shot to fame, as customers downloaded it 50 million times in 50 days. But the dropoff was almost as sharp. Today, it's down to about 2 million monthly users. And Line Pop's Google Play page shows the same sharp downward trend. App fame is fleeting, and users are always on to the next big thing.