For a very long time I’ve talked about my concerns about the size and health of the iOS App Store catalog. The App Store currently sits around 1,200,000 apps. For years the depth and diversity of the App Store has been one of the platforms strongest differentiators. However, as it grows the challenge becomes ensuring that it doesn’t begin to strain under its own size.
What has always annoyed me in my discussions about how to improve the App Store was that I didn’t have actual data on the composition of the App Store. Since it wasn’t (to my knowledge) available I started working out ways to get at it myself.
The first and most important thing I wanted to look at was how “fresh” the apps in the Store are. I’m defining freshness as how recently the app was last updated (or if never updated when it was released).
It is difficult to judge objectively the quality of an app. Instead the best we can do is to find measures that are likely indicative of the quality of a user’s experience with an app. I would argue that the longer it has been since an app was updated the worse that experience will be, especially as that time interval begins to stretch into years.
To that end I took at look at the current (as of July 31, 2014) catalog of the Store and partitioned them by the month in which they were either last updated or released. The result was actually rather better than I would have feared.
I processed this data twice, once for the whole Store and again for only those apps currently in the top 100 in their category in the US Store (around 6,700 apps). Based on my own experience any app that doesn’t fall within the top 100 of its category is seeing vanishingly few downloads so looking at these apps separately lets us judge the experiences of typical customers.
26% of Top Apps saw their last update within the last month and half were updated within the last 3 months. That seems like a pretty impressive level of developer engagement. Clearly developers of Top Apps are also the ones most incentivized to keep their apps up-to-date but nevertheless that is still a good sign for a typical user’s experience trying the App Store.
The numbers aren’t quite so strong for the App Store overall, where only 26% have been updated in the last 3 months. It is, however, a bit staggering to think that these numbers mean that there are around 300,000 apps on the Store currently that have seen an update in the past 3 months. It took over 2 years for the App Store to even reach 300k apps listed. That speaks to me of a very wide developer community clamoring for attention in the App Store.
Another thing I find interesting about these graphs is how clearly you can see the jump around the release of iOS 7 (September, 2013). There is clearly a number of developers who take seriously making sure their apps are at least updated each year to support the new operating systems. 57% of apps have been updated since iOS 7 was released (84% of Top Apps).
While a completely arbitrary, apples-to-oranges comparison it is interesting that the developer adoption rate among Top Apps (84%) tracks somewhat closely to the user adoption of new versions of iOS (currently around 88%).
A few more stats for fun:
- 97% of Top Apps support retina screens (83% overall)
- 80% of Top iPhone Apps support the 4″ iPhone layout (65% overall)
- 17% of Top Apps require iOS 7 (10% overall)
- 52% of Top Apps require iOS 6 or better (32% overall)
(Random trivia: The app in the Store that has gone the longest since update but still charts was last updated on April 24, 2009…1,928 days ago.)
Since I had pulled the data for the freshness analysis I also thought it might be interesting to take a look at the longevity of apps in the Store. So I grouped the apps by their release month.
The first thing I notice is the little bump of Top Apps in the first month. Diving in a bit further I see that there are 39 apps that were released on the first day of the Store that are still ranking within their category six years later, no small feat.
The second thing I notice is that while the rate of app submission is growing (higher proportions of apps are recently released) their contribution to the Top charts isn’t growing at the same rate. Which says to me that the older stalwarts of the Store are holding their ground against the newer entrants.
It is really hard to break into the App Store these days and this gives a clear picture of that two front fight. You have to compete against an ever growing field of new competitors and then also overcome the long back catalog of apps that have already established themselves.
I must confess that when I began this analysis I was expecting a different picture. I would have guessed that an overwhelming majority of apps on the App Store were old and abandoned. In many ways I began this analysis to have fuel for an argument that the back catalog needed to be purged. The reality is somewhat better. While a non insignificant proportion of apps (40%) are effectively abandoned, it is impressive to me that a majority of apps do continue to see updates and engagement by their developers.
While I would still support ensuring that customers and developers aren’t being adversely affected by the 480,000 apps which are no longer being actively maintained, the 720,000 apps that are still are under at least semi-active development will likely paint over this issue for some time.