Paid Android Apps Far Less Popular

Not-surprising-but-important-news-for developers: almost three-quarters of apps on the Android market are offered as free downloads. Many of those are ad-supported, but consumers are increasingly resisting ad-supported apps because they value their privacy. How can that problem be solved?

Picture by Cambridge University

Earlier this week, we looked at what Apple reaching the milestone of 25 billion downloads meant for developers. One problem with attempting that analysis was that Apple doesn't break those figures down into free and paid apps, so it's very hard to tell how successful developers have actually been in making money.

Analysis of the Android market by the University of Cambridge offers a different perspective. As part of an investigation into privacy controls, researchers at the university's Computer Laboratory looked into what proportion of apps were free and how popular they were:

To understand the privacy implications of mobile applications, the Cambridge team wrote a programme that was able to collect and analyse the metadata of 251,342 applications available on the online market. The Android market consists mainly of free applications (73%). The analysis revealed that 80% of those are supported by targeted advertisements. Furthermore, free applications are far more popular in terms of downloads as only 20% of paid apps get more than 100 downloads and only 0.2% of paid apps have more than 10,000 downloads (compared to 20% of free apps).

One worrying aspect of the trend is that free apps are far more likely to ask for inappropriate permissions. The Cambridge team found that while 40 per cent of paid apps asked for "dangerous" permissions (such as location information or address book access), that figure rises to 70 per cent for free apps. Equally worryingly, most of us still click right through the permissions screen: as the research announcement notes, "the number of downloads for a given application appears to not be correlated to the number of dangerous permissions they request".

Does that leave developers caught between a rock (no-one wants to pay) and a hard place (not everyone likes ads)? The Cambridge research team suggest a new potential middle ground: using one set of permissions for advertisements, and another for the app itself. That still won't please people who don't want any data exposed to ad networks, but it would provide a clearer way forward for people who want free apps and will tolerate targeted advertising to achieve that, but don't want every single developer they encounter to access that information. Thoughts?

University of Cambridge


    "we looked at what Apple reaching the milestone of 25 million apps meant for developers". I think you mean 25 billion downloads and not 25 million apps.

    How would the different set of permissions for app and ad use be enforced? How can you tell if the app is accessing sensitive data for it's own use or for ad targeting ?

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted


        Non nom

          Also, *they're* not *their* :-)
          Ahh, I've always wanted to make that remark.

    What bugs me is when there is a free app with ads, but no paid version without ads.

      Root, then adfree. Of course pay if there is an option.

        And people wonder why Android users are tarred with the piracy brush. Removing the ads is removing the developers' income stream. This is the same as piracy.

          If I never intended to click on an ad, how is removing the ad effecting their income stream? If the developer is smart enough to offer a paid non ad version, I pay.

            They are paid when the ad is displayed. You don't need to click on it for them to get payment (though they will get more if you do).

              Most advertisers pay on a pay per click system. Admob springs immediately to mind. You can display ads til the cows come home, but you only make any money if someone clicks them. Their may be other schemes, but this is the one I'm familiar with.

                Apparently, you're not too familiar with Admob. Admob pays (not much) for impressions (displaying the ad) and a considerably higher rate for a click-throughs.
                I would hope that no developer would be silly enough to display ads in their application at no cost.

    If I wanted to pay for apps I'd buy and iPhone and join the clones.

      Why shouldn't developers charge for their work? Do you work for free? Idiot.

        Beyond my core job function I do a hell of a lot of work for free, just to benefit others or to exercise my creativity. Not everyone's as mercenary as you clearly are.

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    I just wish there were paid options in some cases. Dice Player is a prime example of this, there was a paid version but for some reason it was pulled right before I bought my ATP :(

    I'm buying more Android apps than ever. If it's good, and a reasonable price, I'll buy it.

    I think this is more likley an issue of trust and simplicity. I own an andrord phone and I've never bought an app because I wouldn't know how to pay for it and don't want to give out credit card details to just any app developer. With the iphone I have any itunes account I already buy my music through itunes and it's simple. Plus if I don't want to use a credit card I can buy an itunes card.

    I have an android and apple device, the main reason I buy on apple is cause of gift cards, I can get apple gift cards from shops or credit card rewards, but for android I have to use a credit card.

    I buy a lot of apps myself. I think that the Android market tends to skew towards fremium (in app purchase to upgrade) and add supported. There are a tonne of great apps though and with specials running all the time (like now) there has never been a better time to start buying Android apps if you have been sitting on the sideline.

    Where is the link to this research? It's hard to trust articles like this if they don't even link to the sources.

      I've added a link to the announcement press release (when I wrote the article, I'd received this via email but it wasn't online).

      Seeking sources is good, but are you seriously suggesting that otherwise you'd assume I made the direct quote up?

        Are you seriously suggesting you it's acceptable to have a direct quote (or any piece of information really) without a source?

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