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The mobile app divide: Free rules on Android, paid rules on iPhone

Apple and AndroidThe two mobile platforms with the most apps are Google’s Android with around 95,000 apps, and Apple’s iOS with around 250,000 apps.

Those are impressive numbers, but this article isn’t about the sheer number of apps available. Instead, we wanted to focus on a very interesting distinction between the two platforms: The radical difference in the ratio between free and paid apps.

Free versus paid

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s illustrate the difference between the two app stores with a picture and save us some writing:

The share of paid vs. free apps on Android Market and App Store

That’s quite a difference, isn’t it? On Apple’s App Store, roughly 70% of the apps are paid apps. On Google’s Android Market, it’s almost exactly the other way around, 64% free apps.

Why so many more free apps on Android?

Or from the other point of view, why so few paid apps on Android compared to iOS?

It’s certainly not for a lack of developers. There are surveys indicating that there are now more Android developers than iPhone developers.

But the fact remains: Far fewer Android developers are trying to sell apps compared to their iPhone counterparts.

There may be several reasons for this:

  • Money. Many developers are uncertain if Android is a lucrative enough market (we wrote about one aspect of this last week), although there have been voices raised to the contrary recently. The iPhone (and iOS), on the other hand, is an established platform with a number of high-profile success stories and may therefore to a greater degree be attracting developers wanting to make a profit.
  • Many developers are shut out from selling apps. Only developers from nine countries are allowed to sell apps on Android Market. Developers in other countries may therefore be much more likely to release applications for free instead of trying to earn some money from selling at a modest price.
  • More hobbyists? Perhaps the lack of an approval process makes it more likely for hobbyist projects to exist on Android.
  • Different culture? It’s quite possible that Android has attracted a higher share of developers from the open source and Linux world, who are used to making their applications available for free.

What do you think? Is there any one big reason why the ratio between free and paid apps is so very different on Android and iOS?

Data sources: App Store numbers from, Android Market numbers from AndroLib.