Most Android Apps Aren't Being Used -- and You Can Blame Google

Last Updated Aug 29, 2011 9:56 PM EDT

According to a new Nielsen report, Android users spend roughly half their time in the top 10 apps. The stats show how difficult it is for an Android app developer to find an audience -- much less a profit. Google (GOOG) could improve these odds to stimulate the development of more and better apps, but it isn't taking the proper steps.

Cool report, bad numbers
As the Boy Genius Report notes, the Nielsen report is scarily accurate because it isn't a survey -- it uses monitoring downloaded with the approval of the users. Now Nielsen Smartphone Analytics has accuracy that is comparable to its TV counterpart, Nielsen Ratings.

And in June 2011, Nielsen Smartphone Analytics found Android users spending their time in the following ways:

  • 43% with top 10 apps
  • 8% with 11 - 20
  • 4% with 21 - 30
  • 3% with 31 - 40
  • 3% with 41 - 50
  • 39% with the long tail of remaining apps
Nielsen doesn't have comparable numbers for the Apple (APPL) app store yet, but there are some strong stats on Apple's side:
  • iPhone users are more likely to spend money than Android owners. Android users are more likely to stick with free apps like Facebook or Twitter. And free apps dominate the top ten.
  • iPhone users are twice as likely to stick with their iOS than Android users. The report from the market research firm GfK found 59 percent of iPhone customers loyal to the brand. Android owners? 28 percent. It's hard to imagine Android users investing in apps when they might not work with the next operating system they choose.
A quick look at the iTunes top ten shows the standards (Facebook, Angry Birds, etc.) as well as new items. The top 25 shows even more diversity. Android top ten apps are relatively static.

According to Android Community, the top ten Android apps are:

  • Google Maps
  • YouTube
  • Facebook for Android
  • Pandora
  • Music Download
  • Kindle
  • Advanced Task Killer
  • Skype
  • Barcode Scanner
  • Zedge Ringtones & Wallpapers
Since most of the Android apps are free, it's only fair to compare them to the current top ten free iOS apps:
  • Rail Maze
  • The Moron Test
  • Doodle Jump FREE
  • Six Towers
  • Hit the Apple!
  • Toca Hair Salon
  • Siege Hero
  • Crack Your Screen Simulator
  • Extreme Road Trip
  • iFunny :)
Good luck naming any of the developers on the Apple list. Offhand, I only know Lima Sky, the company behind the megahit Doodle Jump. It's also the only app on the list that isn't new.
In other words, even if Apple iOS users were as narrowly focused on the top ten as much as Android users, they still would be using more apps.

Three problems
The truth is that there are three notable problems that make it more difficult for Android apps to get noticed.

Bad searchability: The Android Market is anything but user friendly. Mislabeled apps and poor search functions (from Google!) make it extremely difficult to find new apps, nevertheless apps by name. The inadequacies are even more glaring now that Amazon (AMZN) has launched its own (well organized) Android app store.

In fact, Amazon could be a beacon for Google. The rumored Amazon tablets expected this fall will be a boon for the Android Market since Amazon, no doubt, will preload the devices with its store. Dozens of other Android tablets and phones, however, look like they'll be stuck with Google's subpar Marketplace by default. It's unclear if users will take the extra effort to go to the Amazon store, if they even know it exists.
Malware: The latest Mobile Threat Report released this month found that Android malware is on the rise, from 80 malware apps in January to 400 in June. Worse, it says that malware and spyware creators are keenly focused on Android, not other platforms. (A report in May from Juniper Networks said Android malware jumped 400 percent since summer 2010.)

As an Android user myself, I'm extremely wary of downloading untested or unknown apps because I can't afford to have my phone brick or, worse, get hacked by, say, a calendar app. Before I download an app, I wait for a co-sign from a major blog or just stick with the big name apps. And, based on this new data, I'm not the only one.

Fragmentation: It's difficult for Android app makers to gain momentum since apps aren't compatible with all devices. With Apple iOS, app developers have three choices: iPhone/iPod, iPad, or both (universal). With Android, they have virtually 300 choices. As Business Insider points out, more than half of Android's developers are unhappy with the fragmentation issue.

The 4.0 update to unify different versions, known as Ice Cream Sandwich, doesn't change the fact that individual carriers, not Google itself, decides when phones and tablets get Android updates and what updates they get. By contrast, Apple controls all its software updates, adding stability and consistent software development.

Google has to make searchability, security, and unification priorities if it wants to encourage app development. The current number of 250,000 Android apps pale compared to the millions of Apple apps available -- and a better marketplace is the only way that that is going to change.

Photo courtesy of robertnelson