App Store grows, but apps are seldom used

iPhone users have short attention spans.

At least that’s the conclusion from data collected by Pinch Media, a company that helps developers track the use of their iPhone applications.

Pinch found that of the users who download free applications from the App Store, only 20 percent use the app the next day, and far fewer do as the days pass. For paid applications, the return rate is only slightly better: 30 percent of people use the application the day after they buy it. The drop-off rate for paid applications is about as steep as for free applications after the first day.

Generally, 1 percent of users who download an application turn into long-term users of it, Pinch found. Pinch has noticed some differences based on the kind of application. For example, sports applications get more use than others in the short term, while entertainment applications tend to keep users for longer than others.

Pinch has discovered, or at least confirmed, some other interesting usage trends as well. Developers have a far greater success rate once they rise to the top of the store, which Apple ranks based on popularity. Once applications hit the top 100, the number of daily new users increases by 2.3 times, Pinch said.

Also, free applications tend to get more use than those that cost. Users run free applications, on average, 6.6 times as often as paid applications, Pinch said.

The findings might surprise and disappoint developers, many of whom regard the iPhone's application ecosystem as the first real opportunity to build a business around wireless applications. Prior to the launch of the easy-to-use App Store, few phone users ever downloaded new applications to their phones. That meant that the best way for developers to offer their applications was to convince operators to preload the applications on phones—an expensive, time-consuming and challenging proposition.

Pinch Media collected data from "a few hundred" applications in the App Store that use its hosted analytics product. Applications that use the analytics offering include those that have been the number-one paid and free applications available in the store, Pinch said. The store currently has more than 15,000 applications, and users have downloaded applications more than 500 million times.

The data from Pinch might be valuable for developers who are also considering building applications for other stores that have been planned following the success of the App Store. Stores for Android, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and Palm Pre applications have either been announced or are already open.

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