Applications Devices Opinion

Does the “app gap” matter?

App Gap - Main Pic

What is the app gap?

Many people with a smartphone will have heard the words “app gap” when talking about the app stores from each of the major smartphone platforms. App stores have become the de facto channel to obtain apps for our smartphones and tablets, eschewing the traditional side-loading (i.e. memory card or computer) method of getting apps onto your phone.

The major app stores (that is, Apple’s App Store, Google Play, Windows Phone Store, and other such as Amazon) all cater to their respective devices, and each of them typically offers hundreds of apps across dozens of categories such as Games, Productivity, Books, Kids and Entertainment. But not all app stores are equal – depending upon the smartphone you own, you may or may not be able to obtain the most popular apps for your device. This has been especially true for Windows Phone, whose users have often lamented the lack of big name apps in many of the most popular categories. Even today, developers still tend to concentrate on one or two platforms first, before releasing apps on the other stores, if at all.

In this post, we’ll consider the severity of the app gap, what it means for smartphone users, and whether it even matters anymore. We also present some interesting statistics regarding the various app stores, which reveal quite a lot about consumer behaviour and app usage.

Quick app store facts

In terms of the main three app stores, here’s a quick rundown of some of the most vital statistics:

App Gap - Quick Facts
Quick facts about the three main app stores shed some light on the app gap, but it’s not the whole story.


As of July this year, over 85 billion apps were downloaded from Apple’s App Store, which currently offers around 1.2 million apps. Today, Google Play is by far the largest of the Android app stores with over 50 billion downloads and counting. In the past few years, developers it’s no secret that developers tended to make the most money from the Apple App Store, but Google Play has recently seen strong gains and is by now almost on a par with Apple in many areas. Globally, the number of app downloads is predicted to reach more than 260 billion by 2017, all of which generate a sizeable amount in revenue and estimated to be around $76 billion by 2017, up from $18.5 billion in 2012.

Mobile apps are always optimised for the devices in question, and today are a much more lucrative source of revenue than mobile websites. Paid downloads are common, but increasingly apps use the so-called freemium model in which the app is free to download but relies on advertising or in-app purchases (especially for games).

Windows Phone still lagging behind?

App Gap - Windows Phone Store
Windows Phone has come a long way in terms of apps, but there is still a perceived app gap.

Based purely on the numbers, it appears that Windows Phone seriously lags behind Google Play and the Apple App Store. With 1.2 million apps now available for iOS and 1.3 million for Android, Windows Phone totals just 300,000 apps (as of July 2014, based on various sources). However, Microsoft actually reports its app population based on combined Windows Phone and Windows apps in the store, so the true picture of actual Windows Phone apps might in fact be slightly less. The most recent statistics available from Microsoft’s By The Numbers website state 300,00 apps as of today.

Admittedly, 300,000 apps seems fairly poor when compared with Android and iOS, but you could argue that the numbers are increasingly meaningless – what really matters are whether the apps that people want are available on their smartphone of choice. While the situation for Windows Phone used to be pretty dire, Microsoft has in fact gone to great lengths to encourage developers to develop for the platform.

But not everyone thinks it’s worth the effort:

“If you are thinking about building an app, especially if you are a start-up, then iOS and Android is where the volume is — and then the labor you have put in to building the app is not transferable to building a Windows Store app.” – Wes Miller, Directions on Microsoft.

Recently, based on the data from the App Annie analysis website, it was reported that none of the 13 most popular free games for iOS were available on Windows Phone. Additionally, from the 12 most popular iOS apps, only 6 were available on Windows Phone. This included apps such as YouTube, Google Maps, Snapchat and WatchESPN.

As it stands today, only 4 of the top 10 paid iOS games are available in the Windows Store: Grand Theft Auto (San Andreas), Heads Up!, Angry Birds and Monopoly. Interestingly, Minecraft Pocket Edition (by Mojang, now owned by Microsoft) is not yet available for Windows Phone. The app gap for Windows Phone is slowly closing, but unless Windows Phone’s market share dramatically improves, there will always be a difference in the quantity of apps for the third place ecosystem.

Some app stores have thousands and thousands of apps, so some developers struggle to differentiate themselves. With fewer apps in the Windows Store, you face less competition – Tim O’Brien, general manager for platform and applications at Microsoft

Even now, many developers prefer iOS and Android simply because that’s where the money is. But there are some great developer tools out there by companies such as Xamarin, which allow native apps to be created for all the platforms, saving development time and cost. And, as quoted by Tim O’Brien at Microsoft, the smaller number of apps in the Windows Store makes it easier to stand out from the crowd.

The app store winners and losers

Until fairly recently, Apple’s App Store led Google Play in terms of the number of apps available. As of July 2014, Android apps finally caught up and now exceed the App Store by around 100,000 apps. While almost on a par, it does signal a watershed moment and also means that Apple can no longer claim to have the most apps.

All the app stores are curated to some extent, but Google Play less so than Apple’s and Microsoft’s. This means that app submissions by nature tend to be handled more quickly, as the review process is not necessarily as stringent. Google does in fact screen apps for known viruses and malware, but on the whole the level of curation and review is nowhere near the level that Apple adheres to.

App Gap - App Store Numbers
The number of apps in the leading app stores.


While Google Play and the Apple App Store lead the pack by a huge margin, Windows Phone now has a more respectable number of apps, just ahead of Amazon and more than double the BlackBerry World stores. It’s hard to see how the other app stores could ever catch up, but as mentioned previously, it’s now more about the quality of apps than the sheer quantity. In fact, many of the apps on each store are hardly ever downloaded, and apps are rarely removed unless they contravene the store guidelines. This sheer quantity of apps makes it increasingly hard to stand out in the flood of new apps, an issue that means developers now have to spend thousands on advertising and promotion just to get noticed, and the situation is becoming worse.

What is the most popular type of app?

Unsurprisingly, games dominate the charts on all of the app stores. On both the Apple app store and Google Play, they claim a 41% share across app categories, while the figure is even higher on Amazon.

App Gap - Gaming Rules
Games are by far the most popular apps on all of the app stores.


It’s no wonder that games dominate, as casual gaming has taken off on today’s outsized smartphones and tablets. Despite the lack of built-in game controls, most of the games are touch-friendly titles that can be easily picked up for short periods. This trend has led to a decline in sales of handheld games consoles such as the Nintendo DS and Playstation PSP, which are now relegated to rather more niche products for dedicated gamers.

Titles such as Angry Birds initially led the smartphone gaming revolution, but as the devices become ever more powerful, big name console titles have become increasingly popular. Despite Microsoft’s Xbox heritage, Apple and Google are perhaps in prime position to leverage their set-top-box platforms in future to extend the gaming experience to the living room. For example, a future Apple TV might include its own dedicated app store and allow third party controllers – if that ever happens, Sony, Microsoft and to a lesser extent Nintendo might eventually lose their grip on the console market.

App engagement

It’s interesting to note how user interaction and engagement varies across different types of smartphone app. According to recent data, social network apps such as Facebook tend to be launched the most frequently followed by sports and music – which also boasts the longest session length at 8.9 minutes on average. It’s no surprise that users don’t spend long on social network apps (2.5 minutes), but as Mark Zuckerberg noted week, in 5 years’ time he expects an increasing amount of video to be shared Facebook, which should help to drive user engagement.

App Gap - App Engagement
How do users spend their time on all their various apps?


The true cost of marketing apps

According to Business Insider, the cost to market an app has greatly risen over the past year. This fact no doubt contributes to the app gap across smartphone platforms, as developers need to decide which app stores to support based on their development and advertising budget. It was also recently suggested that a developer needs to spend at least $30,000 to market and promote their app to even get noticed.

App Gap - Cost Per Install
According to Fiksu, the cost per install (CPI) of an app rose to just under $1.50 in May this year.


With more competition in the app stores, getting people to install an app is becoming more expensive. In May this year, the cost of generating an app install grew by 56% for iOS and 30% for Android compared to the previous year. Once you have persuaded someone to install your app, holding onto them is also increasingly difficult – particularly so for gamers who tend to move on to the next app quickly.

So does the app gap really matter?

There will always be a disparity between the volume of apps available on each of the dominant smartphone platforms, simply due to factors such as development, marketing and support costs. Developers need to support the most profitable operating system that reaps the most rewards. But if suitable cross-platform tools sufficiently eases the burden (e.g. the ability to develop universal Windows apps and development platforms such as Xamarin), we should start to see more apps available for all the platforms.

In the end, as long as the smartphone you choose provides enough choice and supports the most popular titles, the app gap becomes less of an issue. But for the moment, it is still a consideration for many people when choosing between iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

Let us known in the comments below whether you’re frustrated by the lack of apps on any particular mobile operating system, or whether you even consider it an issue.

By Roland Banks

Roland Banks has been passionate about mobile technology for the past 20 years. He started his career at British Telecom's research division working on collaborative virtual reality environments, before becoming a video streaming specialist at 3 UK where he helped launch some of the world's first mobile video services. More recently he enjoys writing about his obsession, and developing software that helps mobile operators analyse their subscriber data.

Roland has lived in Asia for the past 5 years, and tries to indulge his other passion for riding motorcycles whenever possible.

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