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?