Apple Leads Google in Mobile Apps -- but Maybe Not for Long

Last Updated Apr 28, 2011 6:50 PM EDT

Watch the mobile space and you know the refrain: Apple (AAPL) iOS has many more apps than Google (GOOG) Android. But a report suggests that the situation may shift quickly. According to apps analytics firm Distimo, growth in the number of Android apps is high enough for Google's marketplace to become larger than Apple's App Store in just five months.

If you think about the adoption growth rate that has propelled Android, this makes sense. More customers mean more developer interest. More developer interest begets more apps, which help draw more customers -- or at least takes away one perceived advantage of buying an iPhone. You can see the projections through June in this graph from Distimo (click to enlarge):


The graph doesn't show the five month end-point, but according to the Distimo report, the future picture is as follows:

If all application stores maintain their current growth pace, approximately five months from now Google Android Market will be the largest store in terms of number of applications followed by the Apple App Store for iPhone and iPad, Windows Phone 7 Marketplace, BlackBerry App World and Nokia Ovi Store. The Windows Phone 7 Marketplace will also be larger than the Nokia Ovi Store and BlackBerry App World prior to the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace being available for even a full year.
Not only does Android overtake iPhone, but Windows Phone 7 comes in third. Now there's a surprise -- and that's without Nokia shipping a single phone with the operating system. Suddenly, market analyst projections of Windows potential growth don't seem quite as inane as some thought.

The number of Android apps is growing. But that's in absolute number. In actuality, the platform might be doing better in practice because of a single dynamic: the popularity of free apps. Here's at least one Distimo snapshot for iPhones from December 2010 (click to enlarge):


Free decimates paid. Well, there's a surprise: people like free stuff. But if this data is relatively representative of normal use, it suggests that the number of free apps is the important factor, not the total number. And here -- again, if Distimo's data is accurate -- Android already has the lead.

Estimates from different sources can disagree, which means that it's difficult to know which is correct. For example, Distimo pegs the number of free iPhone apps at 121,845. Another source, 148Apps.biz, which tracks Apple apps statistics for developers, has the number of free iPhone apps as 136,375, or about 36.5 percent of the total, so there's a significant discrepancy. However, if the growth rates are correct, all the discrepancy would do is shift the cross over point later. In the end, the larger geometric progression is unrelenting.

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Image: morgueFile user Southpointe, site standard license.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.