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iPhone App Store: 30,000 apps, but slowing?

March 26, 2009: 8:48 AM ET

App store 3/26Shortly before 4 p.m. EDT on Thursday, eight months after it opened with 500 applications for the iPhone and iPod touch, Apple's (AAPL) App Store passed the 30,000 mark, according to the count maintained by 148Apps, which updates its list automatically.

That's up from 28,000 apps nine days ago and considerably higher than the official figure of 25,000 that Apple has been using.

But the flood of new titles seems to have slowed, and there are signs that the App Store's infrastructure is straining to keep up with what it already has in hand. Complaints from developers -- always a contentious lot (see here and here) -- have increased in recent days. Among their latest grievances:

  • Delays in approval. Although Apple claims that 96% of apps submitted in February were approved -- 98% within seven days -- reports persist of apps languishing in the queue for months.
  • Delayed payments. The waits for monthly payments have grown longer this year, on occasion violating the contract that says they must be paid within 45 days of the end of the month. See here.
  • A punitive refund policy. As Techcrunch's Leena Rao reports, developers get only 70% of each sale, but if a user demands a refund within 90 days, Apple makes the developer return 100% of the sale price.
  • Failure to police the App Store. Several developers (three that we know of) are loudly complaining that clones of their original apps have been approved by Apple and are now being sold by copycats on the App Store. See here and here.

The slowdown in App Store growth is relatively small and quite recent. In early March, the store was adding new titles at the rate of 250 a day. Over the last nine days, the rate of growth has slowed to less than 223 per day. You can see change in the curve of the line in the fever chart below:

30,000 iPhone apps

It's not clear how significant this might be. It's more likely to be a temporary blip in the data, caused perhaps by developers shifting their attention to the new SDK (software development kit) released last week, than a sign that the App Store has reached saturation levels. But it is the first slowdown we've seen since the store was launched last summer.

UPDATE: Reader Michael Cawthon, who has been keeping even closer taps on 148Apps data than I, disputes the assertion that the store's growth is slowing. He points out that March is not over yet and that submissions tend to pick up at the end of each month. He's got the data to show it. His analysis is posted in full below the fold.

Meanwhile, see also:

To: Philip Elmer-DeWitt

I've been tracking app store growth for some time and slightly prefer the 148Apps site to Mobclix for count stats and accuracy. But in any case I would disagree that store growth is slowing.  First, some monthly numbers from 148Apps:

Month    Submitted    Per Day

May    2    NA

Jun    19    1

Jul    592    20

Aug    1,630    53

Sep    2,944    95

Oct    2,656    86

Nov    3,136    105

Dec    3,824    123

Jan    4,888    158

Feb    5,872    210

Mar    4,422    170

Where "Submitted" is just that -- the count of Apps submitted in a particular month, and which incidentally continues to grow in subsequent months -- and "Per Day" is simply the number of submissions divided by the count of days in that month.

In the case of March above, I've only divided by 26 days, and the result versus previous months would support your thesis that submissions are slowing.

However, consider the following data taken down each day during the later half of February:

Date    Submitted    Per Day

2/15/09    1750    117

2/16/09    1846    115

2/17/09    2143    126

2/18/09    2274    126

2/19/09    2560    135

2/20/09    2854    143

2/21/09    3148    150

2/22/09    3379    154

2/23/09    3562    155

2/24/09    3791    158

2/25/09    4122    165

2/26/09    4697    181

2/27/09    5301    196

2/28/09    5796    207

If we'd looked at apparent App store growth on February 24th, we would've concluded that growth was going to be flat to down versus January.  But apparently the rate of approval isn't linear throughout the month.  It isn't clear to me why this would be so, except that Apple prob has some process whereby apps of a certain size, or content, or whatever get subjected to a more rigorous threshold for approval, and maybe it only happens at the end of the month.

Anyway, if you care to wager that growth with be down for March, I'll be happy to take the other side given that it's only the 26th...

Cheers,

Michael

ex ped: You're on! Winner gets 99 cents.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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