Does Apple's Apps Boom Signal Consumer Rebound?

Last Updated Sep 28, 2009 7:41 PM EDT

Apple's latest milestone -- topping two billion App Store downloads to iPhones and iPods -- could be a telling indicator of consumer willingness to pay for content even in a depressed economy.

It took less than six months to log the most recent one billion app downloads, which was nearly twice as fast as users downloaded the first one billion apps after Apple's store opened in July 2008.

The Apple faithful are downloading an accelerated 10.5 million content and service apps per day, some of them for free. With 50 million iPhone and iPod touch users worldwide, that is tantamount to 40 apps downloaded per every device sold. Apple retains 30 percent of App Store sales, which is about one percent of the company's overall revenues. The estimated $200 million in monthly app sales yields about $2.4 billion annually, according to AdMob, a mobile advertising startup.

Some analysts are raising their targets for Apple on the positive news, which also includes selling iPhones in China and the UK and readying an inexpensive e-reader for the holiday shopping season. With Apple soaring closer to $200 a share, it looks like it is engaged in its own economic revival.

It underscores the strength of Apple's ecosystem: consumer-centric hardware supported by more than 85,000 applications and 125,000 developers creating an unstoppable momentum. But how much of Apple's growth is indicative of a broader industry rebound?

It's difficult to say since Apple's walled garden blocks rival access to its iPhone user base. Apple's refusal to provide Google Voice apps for the iPhone is being cited by critics who argue that CEO Steve Jobs and company are keeping prosperity all to themselves -- except for making some apps developers rich.

Apple posted $1.23 billion in profit last quarter -- its best non-holiday return ever. Its fourth quarter sales will be buoyed by a flurry of new and upgraded products. It is unclear whether Apple consumers are borrowing money or spending discretionary savings, and whether their buying euphoria is sustainable after consumers dropped $1 billion on 3G iPhones and service this summer. By comparison, the consumer electronics industry estimates overall shipment revenues will decline nearly eight percent to $165 billion in 2009 for the first time since 2001.

"The App Store has reinvented what you can do with a mobile handheld device, and our users are clearly loving it," Jobs said in a released statement Monday. He should have just said, "Recession"? What recession?"

  • Diane Mermigas

    Diane Mermigas has been a contributing editor and columnist at Mediapost, The Hollywood Reporter and Crain Communications as well as writing for such sites as Seeking Alpha, TrueSlant and BNET. In addition to speaking and television appearances, Diane consults with companies in digital transition, and is completing a book on the future of media.