Research firm puts app downloads at 183 billion by 2015 thanks to in-app purchases

Jun 28, 2011
Tech

We’re continually hearing about how the mobile app market keeps growing, with the iTunes App Store leading the charge and pulling down a whole lot of money. But the pace of that growth is something that’s up for debate – is it really fast, or is it really really fast? Research firm IDC says it’s […]

We’re continually hearing about how the mobile app market keeps growing, with the iTunes App Store leading the charge and pulling down a whole lot of money.

But the pace of that growth is something that’s up for debate – is it really fast, or is it really really fast? Research firm IDC says it’s really really fast, hitting 183 billion downloads by 2015, according to a report from Pocket Gamer. That’s in contrast to the numbers released by another (rival) research firm, ABI Research, in March, which put the number at 44 billion by 2016.

The big difference between the two analyses is, as IDC says, in-app purchases. Here’s a quote from the Pocket Gamer story: “The firm states that, rising from a base of 38.2 billion downloads in 2011, nearly 182.7 billion app downloads will be made globally by 2015 as ‘developers create apps for virtually every aspect of a mobile user’s personal and business lives.’” Basically, as IDC sees it, there’s so much money to be made from in-app purchases that they create a massive incentive to make apps, and so developers will be looking to fill a lot of niches.

The fact that in-app purchases work so well, IDC reasons, will mean lots of developers forgoing charging for the download of their app. It’s very much the “freemium” model that has been very successful with games in the iTunes App Store and the Android Market – the games are free, and when people enjoy playing them, they’re willing to fork over money for additional content within the game.

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Freemium model already a success

We’ve seen this model work exceedingly well even with games that charge for the download. ChAIR’s massively popular and award-winning Infinity Blade, for example, has seen 33 percent of its revenue come from in-app purchases, and the company thinks it would have been more had they rolled those purchases out earlier. It stands to reason that if in-app purchases can really make developers a substantial amount of money, they won’t want to charge for their apps, and instead get them out to as many people as possible. That means more free apps, and more free apps mean more downloads.

IDC also points to other developments in the mobile space – social networking and gaming revolving around all aspects of apps, for example, as well as cloud support for those apps in the vein of what Apple is doing with iCloud – as being useful tools that will drive additional app downloads. Developers are looking to “appify” every aspect of life, the research firm says, and that’s very true, as well. Anytime a developer can find an innovative way to use a smartphone or a tablet, like, say, as a way to scan users’ skin for melanoma, an app comes into being.

That said, 186 billion? That’s kind of an insane number. But IDC has four years for its prediction to be borne out, and it’ll definitely be interesting to check back in, say at the end of the year, and see if the mobile app space is evolving the way the firm believes it will.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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