Mobile application storefronts had collectively distributed a cumulative total of 81 billion smartphone and tablet apps as of the end of September 2012, according to a recent market study from ABI Research. Of these, 89 percent were downloaded from native storefronts that come with the device’s operating system.
“The current status quo is based on storefronts that the operating system vendors provide as part of the OS experience, and there is no evidence that this would change in the future,” said ABI Research senior analyst Aapo Markkanen. “A year ago it still looked like that, for example, mobile operators could find a viable business case in the curation of Android apps, but that opportunity evaporated once Google got its storefront act together. Today, it makes sense for operators to distribute apps only under special circumstances, such as the ones that we’re seeing in China.”
Similarly, it’s unlikely that the universal, catch-all nature of app distribution would start breaking up into smaller niche storefronts. There is a certain demand for specialist stores, but even then the niche players should position themselves as recommendation channels driving traffic to native storefronts and not actual distributors. Markkanen explains, “Running a user-friendly app distribution channel is expensive. Besides the adequate hosting and billing systems it takes quite a lot of human labor, since successful app discovery requires some form of editorial approach. The opportunity for smaller storefronts built around selected categories is therefore limited.”
Practically the only exceptions are B2B apps and the consumer categories that the universal storefronts don’t want to be associated with — most notably adult content. Mikandi is a real-life storefront example that has built a business out of the distribution of such outcast apps and content.
These findings are from ABI Research’s Mobile Application Markets Research Service which focuses on the distribution and the economics of mobile apps, providing data-driven insights on areas such as download volumes, revenues and business models, plus trends within different applications categories.