Distimo polishes the Android Market turd
April 28th, 2011
Daniel Eran Dilger
Mobile app analytics firm Distimo used a particularly wild amount of spin to suggest Android apps were headed toward global domination. They’re wrong, here’s why.
Under headlines that gasped “There are now more free apps for Android than for the iPhone” and “Android Market to outgrow App Store by July,” figures collected by Distimo were twisted and folded and stretched like a Thai massage by a variety of press release blogs.
To be fair, Distimo is just trying to drum up attention for itself by generating sensational headlines attached to its name. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy or eye catching or link-baiting about reporting that Apple remains in a league of its own in terms of its App Store; it has been ahead since it launched three years ago, and has maintained a large, obvious margin that has only widened since.
How is it that Google has turned around the App Gap?
Until Distimo’s report, it seemed pretty clear that Android Market was distantly behind the App Store, not just in the number of apps, but also in app sophistication, freshness, and in its generated revenues.
While customers don’t really care who is making money as long as they have access to the apps they want, the fact that the App Store is generating billions in revenues for developers while Google’s Android Market does at best a tenth of that does have a huge impact on how much developers are motivated to create and support apps for each platform.
In the 90s, while Microsoft Windows had a huge lead in the installed base of PCs, Apple’s Mac users were still able to get apps for nearly anything they wanted to do, with a few prominent exceptions. That’s because it was still profitable to develop Mac apps despite the huge disparity in market share and the installed base. Even Microsoft maintained Office for the Mac, because (and only because) it was very profitable to do so.
Today, Google’s Android platform is widely used by smartphone vendors — so much so that the entire installed base of all Android-based smartphones collectively appears to be slightly higher than that of iPhones. But Android Market does not reflect that parity, nor does it suggest that Android users, like the Mac minority during the 90s, have roughly the same choice of apps.
Why is this the case, and why is Distimo arguing that it isn’t?
The simple answer is that Google has no real interest in promoting Android as a strong development platform. Google is an ad company, and got behind Android to ensure that the smartphone market wouldn’t be overtaken by RIM and (particularly) Microsoft, an event that would likely have locked the search giant out of mobile devices just like Microsoft once threatened to do on the PC with Vista and its ties to Windows Live/Bing Search.
The “Google Way” among Android apps is to push ad-supported content, which may involve Android’s Java-like apps, web apps, or web+ apps along the lines of its Chrome OS initiative. Apple is motivated by very different goals that revolve around Cocoa, which is the basis for both its Mac and iOS platforms. Cocoa apps sell Apple hardware. At Apple, ads are just a minor icing on the cake, not the cake itself, as is the case at Google.
The result is that Apple built the world’s most successful consumer software market, while Google has worked to simply tie the Android platform to its services and build out tools to monetize Android apps with its ads. What Apple did sounds easy but it is not. Microsoft, RIM, Sun/Oracle’s Java, Qualcomm’s BREW, Adobe’s Flash/Flex/Air, Palm and HP’s webOS, and Nokia have all worked to build similar app stores that have gained very little real traction and don’t amount to any real competition for Apple.
So how is it that Google has suddenly turned the market around and has tied Apple? Well it hasn’t. While Apple initially advertised its app numbers as milestones of the App Store, it has recently reigned in simple “growth in numbers” to focus on app quality. Just look at the company’s app guidelines, which now state that if you’re just pooping out junk apps or even stuff that is already well represented, your app is likely not to get accepted.
“We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store,” Apple said last September in its app review guidelines. “We don’t need any more Fart apps. If your app doesn’t do something useful or provide some form of lasting entertainment, it may not be accepted.”
Google has no such policy because it does nothing to approve apps in Android Market. All one has to do is pay a fee and shovel junk into its online listings. Suddenly it’s obvious why Google is “beating” Apple in free titles: 134,342 to 121,845 according to Distimo: they’re only comparing Fart Apps, ringtones and wallpapers. Of course Google is winning in that regard.
More tellingly, what is the proportion of paid apps on Android to iOS? Again, according to Distimo (but not highlighted in its press releases), Apple’s App Store has 211,369 paid apps while Android Market has just 71,801. That’s not “brilliant” apps, nor top selling, nor even good apps, just a comparison of apps that are proud enough to charge at least 99 cents for a download.
So in reality, Google’s Android Market represents about 25% of the combined number of paid apps for Android and iOS, despite ostensibly being the larger platform in terms of market share and installed base. And how is it going to catch up to iOS by July?
It isn’t of course, unless you are comparing shovelware turds against real apps somebody might want enough to throw down a dollar. The problem for Android as a platform is that nobody does want to throw down a dollar for anything, and conversely, nobody wants to build anything worth throwing down a dollar to get.
Note that these numbers exclude 75,755 paid and free iPad apps, but include the couple dozen Android 3.0 Honeycomb apps for that “avalanche” of Honeycomb tablets that now on shelves or coming real soon now.
Also, note that the iPad App Store, which Distimo pulls out as a separate store just to be able to generate the “Android bigger!!!” headline, is by itself the third largest app market, requiring that everyone else (Nokia, RIM, and Microsoft) require a change in scale on the chart. The iOS iPhone App Store, Android Market, and the iPad App Store are the only three stores (never mind that two of those are actually the one top App Store unless you have Distimo gerrymandering figures to generate completely silly headlines) selling apps in the 100,000 and up library level; Nokia, RIM and Microsoft are in the 6 to 26k range in terms of app catalogs.
Also note that Nokia, RIM and Microsoft were once scoffing at the iPhone as being an upstart that had little chance of success just four years ago. But lets ignore these also-rans to focus back upon Android. How does it eclipse the iPhone by July? By maintaining its past relative growth percentage of 16%! The Apple iPhone App Store is growing at just 6%, in part because Apple isn’t throwing open the floodgates to ringtones and wallpapers masquerading as apps, and isn’t welcoming scores of new waves of Fart Apps.
The supposedly separate iPad App Store is growing at 12%, likely because the iPhone market is relatively well filled out and the iPad is relatively new. Again, by taking the iPad out (while leaving Honeycomb tablets in), Android can claim impressive growth numbers, and you can draw a predictive line suggesting that Android will be in knocking distance of the iPhone App Store library this summer (again, only if you exclude iPad apps, which Distimo itself estimates will balloon to more than 102,000 titles by that time.
If you separate Apple’s (Distomo-projected) 371,675 iPhone apps from the 102,690 iPad apps, things look flattering for the potential 332,114 Android apps that should be available by July. Again, these aren’t separate figures, they’re more statistical hoop jumping along the lines of IDC and Gartner insisting that toy 5 inch netbooks are PCs while the iPad isn’t, the only possible way that those companies can flex their number twisting skills to denigrate Apple and make broadly licensed platforms look more attractive than they are.
Is bigger, better?
Mac users have long voiced a concern that were their platform to get much larger, it might start suffering from the same malware and spammer ills as Windows. While there is some basis for concern in that regard, smartphones are a little different, because with the iPhone, Apple developed a secure software channel that prevents unauthorized software from being installed, sharply curtailing any potential for the spread of malicious code.
The iPhone thus became about as difficult to target as game consoles, which are widely deployed but rarely fall victim to exploits. Apple also made it very easy to distribute rapid patches for security flaws, and has worked to keep iOS up to date. There have been no significant malware incidents related to the iOS, despite an installed base of almost 189,000,000 devices, which is around 6 times larger than the installed base of Macs and about a fifth of the global installed base of Windows PCs. There certainly isn’t a fifth of the viruses of Windows on the iOS platform.
Android devices have a smaller installed base, because Apple’s number includes iPod touch and iPads, and Apple has been selling more iPhones for longer. It’s hard to say exactly how many Android devices are out there with certainty, but lets assume Android is just a little smaller, and catching up (at least in smartphones, where it is currently collectively outselling the iPhone).
Android has been hit with regular malware exploits, ranging from broad collection of user data by “not necessarily malicious” Android Market apps to clear malware attacks from apps on alternative stores (as side-loading is permitted by most Android models) to even direct, malicious, damaging exploit incidents by apps in the official Android Market. Google’s only response to this is to delist (and in some cases, remotely kill) apps that are known to be malicious. It does nothing to approve apps in the first place. Android Market is a dangerous place.
Google rewarms Android Market, still half baked next to iPhone App Store
Piracy problems undermine Android’s growth against iPhone
Google “not happy” with slow Android app sales
Android Malware Sees Explosive Growth | PCWorld
Size is not the problem Google needs to address
But that’s not the extent of Android’s problems. There’s a huge rash of intellectual property theft. One can argue that buyers don’t care if Disney’s or Nintendo’s trademarks are being misused, but the reality is that if you search for something in Android Market, you’ll be hard pressed to find the real thing because for every legitimate title there are scores of shovelware garbage pretending to be affiliated with Angry Birds or Disney princesses or iTunes.
That is a problem for users, and it’s also a problem for developers. Why create something new for Android if it’s only going to be ripped off and buried by tons of shovelware weeds competing for attention?
Even in cases where legitimate, significant developers have brought their titles to Android Market, the quality of their apps is rarely on par with their iOS equivalents. Android apps look poor and unrefined. They’re less likely to be updated or accorded all the features of their iOS cousins. It’s the poor man’s dump market. That’s not going to change just because Android licensees dump out a million more handsets and shovelware developers load up another few tons of ringtones and wallpaper apps requesting to use location data and display ads. It’s simply going to get worse.
Absolute size is not the problem facing Android Market. Boasting a larger volume of free titles by July (when excluding the iPad to engage in hysterical statistical acrobatics) is not going to fix Google’s quality problem. GM isn’t a fine car maker just because it pooped out lots of models and has generated a large aftermarket for seat covers and sun shades. The simple reality is that Apple has nothing to worry about in the App Market but pleasing its own customers.
Rather than trying to postulate where Android’s shovelware freebee pile will be by July, how about we pick a date when Google decides to drop Android’s Java-like platform entirely and convert its mobile business model to a web centric Chrome OS one instead? I’m betting that should happen by 2013.