Monday, October 18, 2010

iPhone vs Android App Sales Numbers

This is a numbers post comparing my experience of selling the same apps on iOS devices and on Android.

A few weeks ago, the Android Market merchant accounts were opened to Canadians and I was finally able to publish the pay versions of my Android apps. I had been waiting for this for almost two years. I made the first prototype of Speed Bones on Android before the iPhone version since I didn't realize Canadians were not allowed to sell in the Android Market. When I learned this fact, I bought a mac mini on eBay and ported the game to iPhone OS thinking I would publish the Android version later when Google updated their store. My apps had relatively good success on Apple's App Store staying in the top 10 apps of the medical section of the app store for more than 6 months.

About five and a half months ago, tired of waiting for Google, I released Speed Anatomy for free on Android supported by an Adsense banner. I would release the more advanced versions, Speed Bones MD and Speed Muscles MD when Google opened it's store to me. To my surprise, the game was much more downloaded on Android devices than on iOS devices at more than twice the rate.

Speed Anatomy, Android (ad supported): avg. 2600 per day

Speed Anatomy Lite, iOS (ad supported): avg. 1100 per day

Now this is not a direct comparison since on Android I give the full version of Speed Anatomy for free (with ads), while for iOS devices I give a Lite version with a little less content, and a full version without ads. One of the reasons for this was that I was initially getting very good CPM on Adsense when it was in private beta (see previous blog post) so I was moving towards monetizing my apps this way instead of selling them. I had planned to do the same for the iOS versions. Unfortunately, the high CPM didn't last when Adsense for mobile was opened to more people. It's now probably less than a fifth of what it used to be.

Part of the strategy in releasing the free version early was to create a user base for Speed Anatomy so that when I released the MD versions, I had some traction and the rankings of the new pay apps would be pushed up from all the users upgrading at the same time (Somehow I hadn't I thought of this strategy before I was basically forced to it by Google). I was enthusiastic about this because I was regularly receiving e-mails from fans who wanted the MD versions released on Android.

I was excited a few weeks ago when the pay side of the Android Market was finally opened to Canadians. I quickly finished the Android versions of Speed Bones MD and Speed Muscles MD and published them. At the same time I pushed an update of Speed Anatomy with a link to the two new versions. Android makes this really easy by allowing links to the Android Market that lead to a list of all apps from a particular developer. Another plus for the Android Market is that updates are instantaneously available, that is, mere seconds after I upload an binary through the web site, I can download it on my phone.

Even though by that point in time I had more than 400 000 downloads of the free version, a fairly big user base with the number of banner clicks higher in the free Android version than in the free iOS versions, sales of the MD versions have been somewhat disappointing. It has only been a few days but combined revenues or the two apps are less than half what I get through Apple.

I'm not sure how to explain the difference. It doesn't seem to be a problem of visibility since the free version is doing well.

If you look at other pay apps in the Android Market you will observe that in general they do not seem to be doing very well on Android. The top app in the health category has between 5000-10000 downloads total since it was released in March. That is an average of less than 45 downloads per day (download numbers ranges are available for every apps in the Android Market).

One issue that might explain the problem, and is annoying to deal with regardless, is that the Android Market app is buggy. Everyday I receive at least one support e-mail from users that have tried to install one of my apps but got it stuck on an 'installing' state. There is a solution that requires clearing the cache of the Market app which seems to fix the problem however I wonder how many people simply give up instead of sending me mail.

Another hypothesis is that I might still be disadvantaged by being Canadian. For example yesterday I received a support e-mail for someone who is usually able to purchase apps with his credit card but wasn't able to pay for my apps. The Google Checkout support site states: "The types of cards accepted through Google Checkout are based on the seller's location.". This is bad because the reduced sales numbers lower my rankings and result in even lower sales numbers.

I get a few e-mails per day about failed credit card transactions. It's possible that this happens with Apple also and that they simply hide it from us but it's worrisome nonetheless. All of this also amounts to an annoying level of e-mails and considerable amount of time spent answering support mail for stuck installations.

Some people blame piracy. I didn't use Googles new copy protection scheme on the apps. I'm not very fond of DRM and believe piracy shouldn't be as much of an issue with 99c software. I's possible I'm wrong. Maybe people will still steal to save a few pennies.

Another annoying aspect of Android Market is that it doesn't take care of levying sales taxes. I'll have to work with my accountant at the end of the year to figure out how much I owe.

In brief, for me, the Android Market compared to Apple's App Store generates double the downloads on the free versions, less than half the downloads on pay versions, requires more support, is a little spammy with my inbox and leaves sales tax accounting to me. Plus it seems like I may still be disadvantaged being Canadian. Given the ad revenues on the free version and the fact that porting an app is less work than doing one from scratch, Android is still not a bad business for me. It provides a nice amount of extra revenues on top of my iOS sales. All sources of revenues included, it probably generates almost 50% of what I get from iOS versions.


  1. Selling apps is hard because free options are almost always available.

  2. Great write-up. I had no idea the pay-market only recently opened up to Canadians.

  3. Beauty really is skin deep, 'cuz once you go below the surface it looks really ugly!!! Thanks for this write-up, hopefully Google will do something about it.

  4. Here is my hypothesis: your userbase might have a higher iPhone adoption rate. Another hypothesis would be that users with the free ad based app might not have seen the update. Users are not notified of updates until they visit the market after an update is pushed.

  5. It is very easy to install the paid app from the free version. Maybe this is what you mean by links. I was going to check the app out before posting but I keep getting an unsuccessful download.

  6. I'm not sure how accurate those download numbers are in the market - a game I downloaded the other day was marked as less than 50 downloads and yet it had nearly 7000 user reviews.

  7. I'm one of those who have constant issues with market place. I cannot do a thing on market place actually since the wifi seems to be messed up and generally buggy. I found a thread on google with thousands if not tens of thousands complains regarding this. And that thread was year years old, same problems. To me when seeing that and being developer. Makes me not want to touch android sdk at all even if you paid me.

  8. Thanks, this is great information that I wish people had shared sooner, as there's a lot of FUD getting slung between parties about the various stores.

    Would you be interested in posting growth trends for these platforms, both for paid and unpaid downloads? I think the trends mean even more for the long run than the current state of the stores.

  9. sadly i think it may be an economic issue. i believe android phones have a lower barrier to entry and soon, if not already(?), have a larger install base. if not now, soonish.

    whenever i see someone on a phone i try and make a note which OS it is. i see more and more and more lower income folks w/ android. not a single one w/ an iphone. they're working to make ends meet, sw is a luxury.

    i think the iphone users are on average sadly more affluent and can blow money on gadgets and sw.

    wonderful information, sincere thanks for taking the time to publish this. i'm thinking free ad-supported is the way to go w/ a $1 paypal donate to remove ads. i'm also not sold on adds. i love the idea of free, and then see how much people like it to donate of their own free will, not just to remove ads.

  10. I am using your apps on android, I've had no problem paying and downloading from Norway, neither has any of my friends. I hope the new speed angiology will be available on android soon. Can't wait! The geography app looks fun too.

  11. Thanks, I will try it out and share the experiences. It will take some time, however. :-)
    android apps