Android and iOS app download sizes are growing fast

Download sizes for iOS and Android apps continue to explode as new tablets and smartphones come packed with high-definition displays, more RAM, and beefier processors.

The average download size for iOS apps across all App Store categories reached 23 megabytes in September, an increase of 16 percent since March, according to ABI Research senior analyst Aapo Markkanen. The bigger app sizes are a result of developers producing more complex applications with richer graphics for devices like the third-generation iPad and its 9.7-inch Retina display whose resolution is 2048 pixels by 1536 pixels.

“More advanced display technologies do enable heavier graphics,” Markkanen told TechHive. “But RAM and chipsets are obviously key enablers as well. Developers start to make most out of the new capabilities, which in turn leads to more complex applications.”

Stagnant storage

Not increasing, however, are mobile device storage sizes, with many tablet and smartphone makers offering maximum onboard storage sizes around 64GB. So, while you can now download better looking apps, you may have to be more vigilant about app download sizes or risk maxing out your storage capacity pretty quickly, Markkanen says.

The new app size has the biggest impact on gamers where app sizes now average 60MB, a 42 percent increase from March when Apple raised the allowable size limit for apps downloaded over a cellular connection from 20MB to 50 MB.

Grand Theft Auto 3
Grand Theft Auto 3

Game sizes on iOS can range widely. Simple games such as Paper Toss 2.0 by Backflip Studios require a 21.5 MB download, while Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto III for iPhone and iPad hits 462MB.

Android explosion

Android app downloads are also increasing thanks to Google's decision in March to allow developers to host up to 4GB of expansion files on Google Play. Despite the change, most Android apps are still relatively small—averaging around 6MB—but that still represents a 10 percent increase since March. Android games, however, nearly quadrupled in size to more than 40MB since March, Markkanen says.

Whether you're using a Samsung Galaxy SIII or an iPad, the bigger app sizes means prolific app downloaders may have to watch their storage capacities more closely. This is especially true if you have a device with as little as 8GB or 16GB. As my Macworld colleague Lex Friedman reported in March, a 16GB iPad only gives you about 14GB of storage. The remaining 2GB is reserved for the operating system and Apple's collection of stock apps such as the Camera, Game Center, and Maps. Android devices have similar restrictions.

Samsung 128GB eMMC storage cards
eMMC storage cards

The good news is that onboard storage sizes are set to improve in the coming years. Samsung recently started producing 128GB eMMC storage cards that will double the maximum onboard storage capacity available in most smartphones and tablets produced today.

And the microSD expansion slots already available in many Android devices and storage limitations may not be as big a problem for the next-generation of mobile devices.

Markkanen also says that cloud-based services could play a further role in offloading the burden on local storage space to remote servers. This is already happening with some apps relying on Dropbox or another online storage provider for storing content. But Markkanen also predicts cloud-based services will become even more commonplace than they already are for accessing and storing music, videos, photos, e-books, and documents, giving you more space on your device.

In the meantime, however, if you own an 8GB or 16GB mobile device without the option to expand the device's memory, you might want to choose your downloads carefully, especially if you're a gamer.

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