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« Whats Latest in Mobile Advertising, from MMA Global Event in New York City | Main | Smartphone wars update mid June: iPhone 4 sales stumbles, Nokia profit warning, Microsoft OS confusion »

June 20, 2010



I think your figure about the average revenue is slightly skewed. You say earlier in the article that 70% of apps are estimated to be free. These consist of apps released by companies who can easily take the hit, apps that earn revenue from advertising or smallish hobby apps that ultimately cost only the $99 entry fee to create as they are written in a person's spare time. Either way, they were released without the expectation of making money from sales.

So if you then divide the 1.43 billion dollars between the 67500 paid apps (30% of 225,000) gives an average of $21185 revenue per app over the 2 years. Using your 35,000 dollar estimate for cost to write an app and you end up with just over 3 years to earn back those costs, not 10 years. Throw in the fact that the app store will probably sell more over the 2010 calendar year than 2009 calendar year and we can count that as around 3 years.

That said, it still backs up your ultimate point. However, I think it is ultimately a factor of the purpose of these apps, or rather the devices they run on. People rarely spend a long time on a smart phone in one sitting, it is often lots of smaller interactions. As such, apps that are designed for this work well (casual games, information finders etc). However, this inherently makes people value them less. They only use it for 5 minutes at a time, so they aren't going to want to spend a lot on it.

I think iPad apps are going to provide a much better way for developers to make a real income off the App Store. People spend longer on iPads in one go and are likely wanting more powerful apps, which the form factor allows for. If someone is going to spend an hour or two in something, they are willing to pay more for it as it is obviously for leisure or work, and anything that makes their leisure more fun or their work easier is of greater value than something that keeps them occupied for a few minutes on a bus.


Thanks for the analysis Tomi, adds good perspective.

Two quick comments:

1. Wouldn't the 1.43b be divided by the average number of users, i.e. 45m so just over $30 on paid apps. Still not a lot I realise.

2. There are many other types of 'value' provided, e.g.
a. ad revenue through ad networks that doesn't go via Apple
b. brand enhancement through the utility value that certain apps provide to end users, albeit hard to measure. But some of this value has been unlocked in a way that previous web/wap efforts have struggled to do.


Brian Prows

App developers who expect to profit in the smartphone market better have an upsell strategy. Otherwise they're doomed to failure.


So what you saying is that on average all the developer are bankrupt, but there are still a lot of them who are quite happy and continue developing. Looks like there must be a bit more to the story.

Your calculation with 225.000 apps also counts the free applications which don't get that much of the whole sum. So the average for each *paid* application should be a bit more than the 6,355 dollars in two years.

Romain Criton

Hi Tomi,

I agree with the 2 previous commenters that there are several minor flaws in your line of reasoning:
- when calculating the average revenue per user, you should not equal cumulative sales with users. As you have pointed several times in your blog posts and tweets, there are less users than cumulative sales because some users may own (or have owned) several devices (iPhone users who upgraded to the next version, iPhone users who also purchased an iPad...)
- when calculating the average revenue per app, you should not divide the total revenue by the total number of apps, but by the number of paid apps + free apps that employ the In-App purchasing system, which gives a higher revenue per app
- last but not least, your estimation of the paid/free split does not take into account that some of the revenue comes from In-App payments, be it from free apps or paid apps. Without any information about how much revenue In-App payments represent vs. app sales, it is very hard to assess an accurate paid/free split from the total App Store revenue alone

As I said the above flaws do not change the overall conclusion that the App Store is no gold mine, but again it is no different from the whole retail software industry in general (including videogames), so that's not surprising and it doesn't mean that developers should give up on the App Store.

Tom Hum

Not going to argue with the model or the numbers, but a few points around the edges:

1. Most folks producing an iPhone app will probably go into the exercise aiming to do significantly better than average.

2. Developers won't be too fussed if app revenues are just 3% of device costs, as they never saw anything of device costs - the comparison is moot (to them).

3. Do you presume that app sales are evenly spread between iPhones and iPod Touch devices? Downloads, maybe. Sales, I'd be surprised.

4. The revelation that when given a choice of both free and paid, many users choose to download mainly free apps isn't that surprising... is it?

5. The fact that most apps don't make a return doesn't IMHO imply that the apps business as a whole is without value. To use an analogy - most small businesses fail in the first few years of operation, but we wouldn't conclude from that that setting up a small business is a foolish thing to do, would we? Hmm, on second thoughts... ;)

6. Many apps would not be designed to be directly revenue-earning (I use quite a few "public service" or "labour of love" apps myself). Surely to get the average revenue earned per app, you should divide total revenues by number of paid apps, not by number of apps in total?

What I would (genuinely) love to see - and I'm worried that I haven't, for obvious reasons - is some evidence looking at how app download behaviours have changed for regular smartphone owners (Nokia etc) in the last few years. Have Apple awoken a thirst for apps amongst owners of other devices? Or are users interested in apps churning towards Apple and Android?

Help me, Obi-wan Statobi...


This Apple's App Store Rush is the same as the Gold Rush: most of the gold hunters will fail and loose a lot of money while the companies selling them the tools will make big money.

Honestly, the Apple App store is a tiny ecosystem: I prefer to stick on the (mobile) web.


This guys math is retard. He is assuming every app is the same price which they aren't AND many developers have more than one app on the store. Some apps are amazing and clearly make good money. Others suck and don't make anything. Comes down to a simple fact if you build a good app and price it right you can make a lot half of the 225000 don't get any payout from apple cause they are free. They use in app purchase. So the 1.43 is probably paid to the ones who charge for their app. Of course to be fair I'm not sure of apples policy on the in app purchase


Also why would there be sooooo many developers making apps if it's unprofitable. Hhmm. I think there is more to this story. As well as the average build for an app is not 10000 not even close in fact. Many are making for much less even as low as a couple grand.

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi everybody

Thank you for the rapid comments. I will be back later today, will respond to all, please keep the comments coming

Tomi Ahonen :-)

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi all, will do half now and come for half later. I will reply to each of you individually

Hi Martin, timmyh, Brian, Sam and Romain

Martin - good points. There are many ways to examine the number now that we have it, and I did only a quick first view to it on this blog now (I will eventually do a big 'apps economies' blog when I have better time). It is however, the single biggest and most used measure of any industry, to count its total revenues - thus the analysis is the 'most applicable' and if you argue we should somehow 'forgive' the freebie apps and 'exclude' them from the industry, it would be tantamount to promoting a similar bubble as the dot com bubble in year 2000, when many credible IT tech analysts argued that there was a 'new economy' to the internet, where 'eyeballs' trumped revenues and profits (which was obviously utter rubbish). I contend, we have to count the whole economy to have the big picture view.

But as you ask for the revenues by paid apps only - then you are picking the wrong numbers. We cannot use the current 225,000 apps as the number for the cumulative sales number - because there have been countless apps that once existed but have been removed by now. The 225,000 current app number needs to be measured agaist current sales, ie the past 12 month revenues only. Take 30% of those and we get 67,500 apps that are paid. Then take the revenues they have generated in the past 12 months - 1B dollars, and subtract Apple's cut of 30%, so we have 700M dollars. By this measure the average paid app earned 10,370 dollars. It would still take them 3.5 years to recover the programming investment ignoring all updating costs, any marketing costs etc.

timmyh - good point yes, but the average number of users needs starting point of iPhone and iPod Touch users in 2008 - is not zero - and the number today, is more than 45 million but yes, good point, the math should be not from the 'ending point' of users, but the mid-point. That should actually be done for the two years to get more accuracy. I didn't have these numbers on my fingertips and the worst data point I really would need is the replacement cycle for iPod Touch (which Apple won't give us). I have some preliminary iPhone replaement cycle numbers - no surprise they are in line with global average ie 18 months..

I will try to do a 'serious' thorough app store economics analysis later, but have several blog stories in development I need to finish first haha.. Also good point on other forms of value that is not monetary. But then we hit the horribly tiny penetration of all iDevices - at 1.2% of the planet's population - so for example for an advertiser, the business concept is FAR WORSE to try to get advertising visibility on iPhone than the opportunity to make money on Apps. FAR worse. (SMS gets you 50 times bigger audience haha..)

Brian - good point. I hope they have made that strategic calculation. My vibe with my contacts globally says most have not thought that far.

Sam - I have warned the industry for more than a year, that the hype around apps is indeed a bubble, most will NEVER recover their investment. How long will this bubble last? The math is absolutely iron-tight (it is WORSE than we thought) - most developers on iPhone Apps will lose their shirt. The total invested in developing these 225,000 apps is over 7.8 Billion dollars. And last year the total eco-system made 715 million dollars (of which Apple kindly took 215 million). The math is absolutely devastatingly brutal. They will not make money. This is a bubble waiting to burst. I am not now the only one saying so, dozens of experts in apps have now warned in the past 3 months that apps are a myth or a bubble or wont' make money. (But I was the first to expose this as a myth last year)

Romain - thanks, yes, this was a quick commentary just on the top line numbers. I think its valid to take the aggregate number and report the overall size of hte market - and I hope I brought value to readers with the division of the revenues by years (ie halfs of years). But yes, I was in a hurry, this is last week's stuff that I had to just get blogged before I forget, and will do a more thorough analysis of the full economics of the app store hype soon. It is a hopeless business case, whether to earn money or even worse - for those wishing to use iPhone as an ad platform.

Ok. more comments soon. Thank you for writing, please write more.

Tomi Ahonen :-)


I may not agree with all the maths here as pointed out by few commenters, but I do agree with the end point somewhat that app store is not a get-rich-quick thing...This is the same like ads on websites.. Some people make a lot of money, many people make bits and pieces of it, and many are left high and dry.. But still, everyone is attracted to it thinking the day they start a blog, they will start reaping big bucks. So, investing into the smartphone apps business requires a lot more thinking unless you are doing it part time with nothing to lose...

Jonas Feiring

Hi Tomi.

The biggest flaw in your analysis is that you suppose that App makers are in the AppStore only to make money. This is very wrong. Apps also play the role of servicegateways and "super-mobile-sites" for many service providers. In the norwegian market, all the most popular Apps are free. Many millions of norwegian kroner have been spent on their development, and they don't make a single buck. Yet they are still considered successful with a user base that is totally crushing their mobile web counterparts.
In addition, services like Spotify, make money from their apps outside of the AppStore. So there is cleary a bigger picture here.

Saying that Apps are a bubble, is like saying desktop software is a bubble.


I've had an iPhone from the very beginning and now also have an iPad. My app purchases have been increasing at an increasing dollar rate. That's because we're now seeing more robust Apps that are worth a higher price. In the beginning it was mostly very simple one-trick apps. The iPad has especially enabled developers to produce more elaborate and multifunctional Apps.

Many Apps are given away free because the developer wants to drive customers to their products or services. For example, EBay, Amazon, Skype, etc. Many of the others seek to drive traffic to the advertising on their apps.

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi Tom, Toto, Joe, Shantanu, Jonas and davesmall

Tom - point 1 - ouch so very very true. Yes, most expect to do 'better than average' yet evidence suggests median use - ie mathematical half-point where half of total developers do better and half do worse - is far worse. The median number of downloads is under 1,000 - that means at 20 cents per download, that developer wishing to do 'better than average' actually earns only 200 dollars and it would take them 75 years to break even haha.. The reality of 'long tail' is far worse news that this blog so far (I will be doing the full story shortly)

point 2 is yes true, but I think it is 'telling' how dramatically different it is from the PC world, especially in 'comparable time' when a few years after launch, PC apps for normal PC user would easily cost twice the costs of the total hardware (DOS and Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect etc etc etc). But in smartphones they amount to only 3%. But yes, like you said, for the developer its not relevant point.

3 - yes, I have to assume apps spread evenly Touch and iPhone because I have no better data. How do you think it would be split by the way?

4 - haha yeah, no surprise there that free more popular

5 - true, even though most current iPhone app developers will never see a profit, does not invalidate all apps business, not even all iPhone apps business. But I want to give a stark warning not to enter this business with baseless expectations. If the developer invests in a paid app, and knows the hardship it is to make it work - some do earn and there are some who have had millions of downloads - then the developer better come with a super-powerful brand behind them - say the next James Bond movie for example - and/or massive marketing spending by a giant like say EA or a distribution/marketing strategy like say its the in-store game for Wal-Mart etc.. It can be done, but if you know the math and how badly it is stacked against you, you won't think your sister's cute little cartoon that has never been published, will suddenly become the next 'Pokemon' global phenomeon, just because it is on iPhones hidden amidst 200,000 other cute games, haha..

6 - fair point but the industry overall needs to be measured by its total revenues, even where that includes free services. I will be providing the break-down by paid apps and the freebie apps in the longer blog - trust me, the free story is heartbreakingly devastating for developers, far far worse than the paid apps story. The iPhone is not a mass market and thus mass market advertising will not succeed on it, not at all; but this is again missed out by most who rush to deploy apps onto it. (And its FAR worse on the iPad, boy is that a foolish 'advertising' medium today.. what are they smoking at Apple)

Lastly on the change. Great question and we actually do have some preliminary data. The Ovi store just reported a few days ago that the average Ovi user downloads 12 apps. A few years ago before the iPhone App Store existed, Nokia/Symbian downloads were far less than 1 per user per phone lifetime (perhaps for some, a one-time OS upgrade, and for a tiny minority some game). The iPhone hype has dramatically increased Nokia users' appetite to want apps, so while they are far from the reported 35 per iPhone (or on 80M existing iDevice population against 5B total downloads, obviously 62 apps per iDevice lifetime). We are indeed witnessing change in behavior and it will be an exciting area to watch, as it matures into a real business (after most of the developers have come and gone, but the real business remains)

I would also say only with my gut feeling, no facts to support this - that those who most 'want' apps will tend to gravitate to the most 'app-friendly' platforms ie the iPhone and Android more than Symbian, RIM or WinMo. But that is then hindered by existing phone situation (and its upgrade schedule) and the networks and their device options - ie if you're on Verizon in the USA, you won't be using an iPhone come what may, you're going Android or some rival, and if you want an Apple -like experience you have to get a PDA ie iPod Touch (or tablet PC ie iPad).

Toto - we totally agree, thanks for comment.

Joe - sorry for being a retard, but I am measuring the WHOLE ECO-SYSTEM for its TOTAL REVENUES. Like say, television, which has both free-to-air content and cable TV paid content. Take the whole revenue pie and see how big it is. And Apple has now finally told us the real number. It is then fair to divide that against every app downloaded. I am VERY clear this is all, including free and paid apps. This is my first blog on these numbers, more to provide the break-down of the periodic split of the apps revenues by years (both calendar years, and iPhone App Store years from launch ie years that start from July and end in June) - as I have many colleagues who will want those numbers and so far nobody has reported them. I will return with more analysis giving several break-downs of the data including what each paid app earned. Please stay tuned and come back..

Joe (second comment) - 'why are so many making apps if there is no money in it'? You have clearly not been in business for very long. In the years 2000-2001 the world economy went into its previous recession, which was triggered by what is called the 'dot com' bubble bursting. At that time there were millions of developers on the internet, who believed (bizarrely) that the centuries old economic laws had stopped to function, and somehow profit and revenue did not matter, and if you built a website with many visitors, you could become rich. That 'get rich scheme' got AOL - a loss-making internet start-up - to buy Time Warner, one of the biggest media empires, and many other such idiotic moves. Then the truth came out, there was no 'new economics' and revenues and profits did matter, and the dot com bubble burst. The world went into economic crisis. But all of us who were in business back then, learned that lesson very clearly if we didn't believe it before that - that you have to have revenues and profits in business, just having 'free downloads' or 'free page views' or 'eyeballs' was no way to make a business.

So, my point? I have been warning the industry for more than a year, that this app hysteria is a tech bubble. Last year I was alone in it. This year many reputable tech specialists have joined in the warning, that most apps will NOT earn a profit and therefore there is a danger that the apps hysteria is indeed a bubble and the developers will go bankrupt and billions will be wasted.

Just because there are hundreds of thousands of developers blindly trusting a bizarre new unproven business model - where current math suggests profits are implausible - does not mean they are right. EXACTLY the same thinking caused the dot com bubble in 2000-2001. You may want to read up on that in recent tech economics history if you don't believe me.

My mission here and in my 9 bestselling books and in over 250 public speakerships and 350 press references has been to help the mobile industry make money. I show regularly new successful business ideas and I report regularly on the pitfalls where the money does not exist. This is the fastest-growting Trillion dollar industry - as big as TV, radio, all print media including newspapers, magazines, books - combined. Or to put it in another way, mobile is as big as the PC industry plus software industry plus total internet industry including ads, paid content, and broadband and dial-up fees - added together. Mobile alone is as big as all of those - except that mobile makes twice as much profits as either of those industry bundles. I have no ulterior motive here, this blog has no advertising, I am 50 years old, and my only mission in life is now to try to help those who really want to make money in the best economic opportunity of our lifetimes, to focus on where the money is, and avoid those traps where there is no profit to be made.. Make sense?

Lastly on your opinions on what it costs to make apps. I appreciate it that those are probably your honest opinions, but I do need public reported facts, and the numbers I quote are directly from the Internet Retailer who said 'most apps cost between 25,000 and 50,000 dollars'. (reported in May of 2010). I cannot accept your feeling unless you can provide me with some source for your data.

Shantanu - good points and yes we agree in principle. And I don't mind that 'adventure' by the developer with an optimistic attitude, willing to take a risk - as long as at least we - as an industry - are honest to that developer that his chances are not 1 in 10 like in pop music or movies or the 'normal' mobile services business like a WAP site or MMS subscription service - not even 1 in 100 as it first seemed when the App Store appeared, but the reality is the odds are something like 1 in 1000. We need to be honest to that developer so they know what kind of odds they are facing, before they invest their time in this task. Most basic WAP sites cost about 3,000 dollars to develop, and reach over 50 times a larger audience than total iDevice population..

Jonas - I hear you and there is indeed some truth to what you say. But, if they are mostly free, then the owner of the site has to make money some other way ie advertising or selling further premium content etc. If that is the case, then the iPhone is the worst possible platform - even in Norway - for reaching a mass audience. Doing the same on Java or web or WAP or MMS will reach the majority, iPhone reaches a couple of percent of the population. Why would you the developer abandon 95% of Norwegians? A free app on an iPhone is totally dumb from a media advertising strategy point of view, where we have viable (app like) solutions to suit most needs. Yes, some games with motion control or GPS positioning etc, yes in some cases an iPhone is an ideal gaming platform - but in most cases that same app experience can be delivered via Java for example and reach more than half of Norwegian phones - or even via Symbian and reach 10 times more pockets on Nokia and SonyEricsson and Samsung phones than iPhone... Make sense?

You are correct that some VERY rare apps are successful on the iPhone and those get the big attention. But its not even as 'ruthless' an industry like pop music or hollywood movies, where 9 out of every 10 makes losses, but the 1 hit out of 10 makes enough profits to the producer to make the business work. No, in apps its 1 in 1,000, that is suicidal business. And since I have been trying to educate the industry that this is dangerously over-hyped (there is a need for apps in very specific areas - games in consumer uses, and of course a far bigger opportunity in business/enterprise apps, and in the long run apps will become a healthy business in mobile) - there have been many other experts who have examined the app store opportunity and come to the same conclusion, this is dangerously over-hyped and is likely to be a bubble. Some have gone to the extreme already to say all app stores will die within 2 years (which is then the other extreme, equally unlikely, there is a small but growing part of apps who do make money, again, mostly in gaming and that is healthy)

davesmall - thanks good points on the development in prices and usage. I hear you on the point of the branded free apps like EBay, Amazon - these are of course developed AFTER there is a similar free WAP site, and then yes, it makes sense for premium customers on premium phones to provide a better experience. The mobile website (on WAP) is already viciously profitable - in almost all cases of web/WAP, it is the WAP site that turned an unprofitable media site on the web, to make profits on WAP, as first reported by the Financial Times mobile site literally a decade ago. That is the right way to do it. You first do the WAP site, then yes, add every better experience from MMS to voice services to SMS alerts to Java apps to yes, even iPhone, Blackberry, Symbian, WinMo, Android etc apps where relevant. And for global brands like Amazon, EBay etc that is truly relevant. For the local bank, hotel, retailer etc, it is not. They will be able to do all their mobile banking services on SMS, WAP and MMS, and if they are really brave, to add web, but won't need to bother with a hugely expensive and useless iPhone app.

Thank you all for writing

Tomi Ahonen :-)

Tom Hum

Tomi - covering a few of your points: on the iPhone/iPod split, I also have no data :( but my gut would be that iPod Touch owners would tend towards seeing the device as a one-off purchase; would be less likely to have an iTunes account; and that they might have less disposable income than iPhone owners. I'd guess they're less likely to make a purchase at all (some may just use the device as an iPod, after all).

Completely agree that marketing for apps is important, and that most will fail. But this is a classic situation for any medium where the barrier to entry is low, no? How many web sites make money? A small percentage. How many businesses of any kind make money? A small percentage. Anyone doing *anything* with an expectation that it's a free ride to riches is likely to be disappointed.

I'm not sure an industry should be measured purely by revenue generated, if you're looking to make a general comment on the worth of that industry: as others have pointed out, value could be realise elsewhere. Do apps which allow access to bank accounts have no value? They likely lead to cost savings for banks that otherwise would service customers through voice calls. How about free healthcare information, or any reference material, say? These things have value, but it's not easily measured financially. I think that you could say the same thing about much of the world-wide web. This makes it difficult to make a mathematically-based argument proving or disproving the worth of the apps business, but the fact that it's difficult doesn't mean that we should jump to an unwarranted conclusion.

On the "12 apps" figure, I am suspicious; because in Nokia presentations I've seen recently, language subtly changes from talking about "apps" to talking about "items" when talking about downloads, and the Ovi store includes plenty of content that isn't apps at all - it's ringtones, logos, wallpapers and so forth. I can't find an original story talking about the "12 apps" figure, most of them seem to point back to a MobileCrunch article which doesn't itself reference anything else. Lots of other articles I can find online seem to have identical text (suggesting they were copy and pasted from a press release) and refer to "on average, each registered user has downloaded (12) items from the Ovi Store since the launch".

To my cynical and suspicious mind, (a) the fact I can't find this on an official Nokia site is worrying, (b) there's a difference between an item and an app, and this matters, and (c) the type of average this suggests is misleading (is it that the average user downloads 12 apps/items? or that on average, users download 12? The latter would be swayed massively by the extremely likely existence of a few heavy downloaders).

If the figures are genuine and strong, I'd expect to hear them being shouted from the rooftops of Helsinki - Ovi needs this sort of news, and developers need to hear it.

Do you have a URL from Nokia quoting these figures? Personally, I'd be very happy to have hard evidence that Nokia owners are experiencing a thirst for apps. I have a fantastic team of developers who've spent 6-7 years building up expertise delivering them who'll be happy, too :) But I'm sceptical (nothing new there eh?).

Tom Hume

Ooh, come on, give us a reference for that Nokia stat you quoted ;)


Je veux juste dire que c'est un super blog vous êtes arrivé ici! J'ai fait le tour de pas mal de temps, mais a finalement décidé de montrer mon appréciation de votre travail!

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    Tomi Ahonen is a bestselling author whose twelve books on mobile have already been referenced in over 100 books by his peers. Rated the most influential expert in mobile by Forbes in December 2011, Tomi speaks regularly at conferences doing about 20 public speakerships annually. With over 250 public speaking engagements, Tomi been seen by a cumulative audience of over 100,000 people on all six inhabited continents. The former Nokia executive has run a consulting practise on digital convergence, interactive media, engagement marketing, high tech and next generation mobile. Tomi is currently based out of Helsinki but supports Fortune 500 sized companies across the globe. His reference client list includes Axiata, Bank of America, BBC, BNP Paribas, China Mobile, Emap, Ericsson, Google, Hewlett-Packard, HSBC, IBM, Intel, LG, MTS, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Ogilvy, Orange, RIM, Sanomamedia, Telenor, TeliaSonera, Three, Tigo, Vodafone, etc. To see his full bio and his books, visit Tomi Ahonen lectures at Oxford University's short courses on next generation mobile and digital convergence. Follow him on Twitter as @tomiahonen. Tomi also has a Facebook and Linked In page under his own name. He is available for consulting, speaking engagements and as expert witness, please write to tomi (at) tomiahonen (dot) com

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