13 Jun 2013

Declining App Download Rate: Impact on iOS vs. Android Engagement

Cumulative App Downloads by Platform

Apple recently announced that cumulative app downloads for the iOS appstore have reached 50 billion. In comparison, cumulative app downloads for the Google Play Store have reached 48 billion. Most analysts have been quoting these figures, but haven't really dug deep enough to figure out what this means for the future of the mobile industry. Let's take a look at the app download rate per device and attempt to understand its implications.

Cumulative App Downloads vs. Activations

The cumulative app download chart above shows a clear trend, i.e. iOS downloads have seen healthy growth, but Android downloads, from Google Play, are growing faster (the data does not include downloads from third party app stores). Let's compare this trend with trend of cumulative device activations/sales for each platform:

Cumulative Activations by Platform

The trend here is quite similar to the one above, with iOS seeing healthy growth and still outpaced by Android (Android devices here only include those with Google services).

Download Rate per Device: Impact on iOS & Android Engagement

Ideally, we would measure the download rate per device by calculating the download rate per quarter and dividing that by the active device install base for each platform. Unfortunately, there is no reliable data to measure device install base and we have to use cumulative activations/sales instead. While the calculated download rate per active device would be depressed compared to the actual figure, the trend should remain consistent. Let's take a look at these download rate patterns:

Android vs. iOS: App Downloads per Quarter

The chart above shows that quarterly app downloads per device are declining for both platforms. Since iOS hit the market earlier, the ratio of install base to cumulative sales should be lower compared to that for Android. This means that the download rate calculated for iOS is slightly inflated compared to Android. However, the trend in download rate interests me more than the actual download rate for each platform. This trend is also likely to be a leading indicator for developer ARPU.

This decline has occurred during a period of rising sales of smartphones and an even sharper rise in sales of tablets. While this may seem counter-intuitive, especially given analyst commentary on the matter, this is actually quite natural. As a product category diffuses into the market, it reaches various categories of consumers - from high-end users to mainstream users. High-end users are typically early adopters, with greater spending propensity, and are hence more "engaged" than mainstream users. As product penetration increases, consumers become less "engaged", on average. Therefore, demographic differences that drive increased revenue and engagement are not permanent differentiators.