iOS App Store vs. Google Play: Key Stats and Important Observations

I’ve come across a few stats regarding the iOS App store and the Google Play store that are more than just a little interesting. If you follow the industry closely then you are aware of the narrative that gets circulated that iOS garners heavier user engagement than Android. There are many data points to support this but the below picture outlines where things stand today.

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All of this is important to understand in context. What all data, like the above, showing engagement is tracking are identical tasks. Yet if you evaluate each platform you realize not all time spent on the device are identical tasks. The ones above are common, yet what we don’t know is how much time is spent on other apps and more importantly how much time is spent browsing or shopping in the app stores. This is why I’m more interested in data showing app stores sales and related behaviors than anything else.

I recently came across a new report from Distimo which tracked both Google Play and iOS App store revenues across many different regions. Below is their data of total revenue of each app store in each country tracked.

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So many interesting observations need to be made from this chart. The first is related to the United States.

What this chart shows, and many other data points I’ve acquired point out, is simply how important the US is from a revenue standpoint for developers and for each platform. One could argue that the US is the most important strategic battle ground in many different ways. The US has just over 313 million people of which 191 million currently own smartphones. In Smartphones, Android has a slight market share lead over the iPhone with approximately 95 million users on Android and approximately 88 million on iOS and the rest with either BlackBerry or Windows Phone. ((I say approximately because I know I’m close with those estimates but possibly not exact))

The second is related to Japan. Japan is clearly the second largest app marketplace in terms of total revenue. Japan has 127 million people of which 45% own smartphones. This brings Japan’s smartphone install base to approximately 57 million. iOS has 33% OS share in Japan with just over 18 million iPhone users. Android has 66% market share giving us 37 million users in Japan. The iPhone in Japan is the single best selling device followed by Sharp, then Sony, then Samsung. I highlight this data so you have context when looking at the App store sizes and revenues.

South Korea has an active Smartphone install base of 50 million of which 70% own smartphones. Out of the 35 million smartphone users 90% use Android or 31.5 million people. The bulk of the additional 4.5 million consumers in South Korea use iOS.

Now with those data points in mind, let’s consider the following:

Japan and South Korea are Google Play’s largest revenue generating regions with significantly less Android users in each region. In Korea, and this is fascinating, 35 million Android customers outspend 95 million US customers in the Google Play store. Please don’t forget Samsung is based in Korea as well as LG and both run Android. Now back to my first point. Not forgetting that the US is a critical battle ground for App stores, what about South Korea? Put yourself in Samsung’s shoes. How much leverage does this give them against Google? Google, from a Play revenue standpoint, can not afford to lose South Korea. Yet Samsung is toying with the idea of usurping Play store and developer revenue from Google. And the scary part is that Samsung can do this just for their home country and bring in a pretty penny. Although I believe they have much more grand ambitions that just conquering their home country, which should have just happened by default if you know anything about Korean culture.

the iOS app store shows strong resilience in all the markets in which it competes. With the battle that Both Google Play and iOS are in at a global level, notice what country is not in the chart. China. Google Play will likely never be in China, yet Apple is still planning their attack.

The data also points out that the Google Play market grew 67% in the past six month’s. Mostly thanks to Samsung mind you. During that same period the iOS app store grew 15% yet the Apple app store generate two times more revenue. Much of this thanks to iPad, and keep in mind without any real help from China..

So here again we see the narrative that although Android has a larger install base, from an app economy it has the weakest position. With that we factor in the interesting question Ben Evans raised the other day:

“If total Android engagement moves decisively above iOS, the fact that iOS will remain big will be beside the point – it will move from first to first-equal and then perhaps second place on the roadmap. And given the sales trajectories, that could start to happen in 2014. If you have 5-6x the users and a quarter of the engagement, you’re still a more attractive market.”

He is just making the point of engagement and not around app store spending. So let’s look at the graphic provided from Distimo on App store growth.

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Note that the Apple App store has remained relatively flat while The Play store is trending up. So the question then revolves around whether the trajectory of the Google Play store will catch up with the Apple App store. I maintain that it will not, since the iPhone and iPad are not standing still and the iPhone is still doing remarkably well in every region. Also if you look at Google Play’s biggest markets currently, Japan and South Korea, they both have smaller populations and South Korea already has remarkably high smartphone penetration. So one could argue that the room to grow in order catch up is simply not there given the timeline needed. And as I point out Google has no ‘Play’ in China (pun intended).

One market to watch with regards to Google Play is India. Per capita it is one of the largest growth sectors but this will also take time to manifest in Google’s favor from an economic standpoint. Android is doing well in India but those customers are not spending or investing much in ecosystems at the moment.

With the picture I just painted you can see what it makes sense strategically for Apple to begin to build out an current generation iPhone line of products in order to target different segments and different price points. It is all about getting customers in the door so they can invest in your ecosystems value chain.