apptrace blog

Inside “Zombie Land”

We recently launched our product apptrace, your one-stop-shop for mobile app tracking, with its release we discovered a significant amount of apps that go unnoticed, we called these “app zombies.”

The subject brought up a lot attention and questions on how we got to this number and why we are making this assumption. With that in mind, we would like to provide you some insight into our methodology and reasoning on the app zombie discovery and the iOS ecosystem.

The AppStore Ecosystem

The AppStore is the foundation of a growing market for developers, publishers and customers all over the world. It is currently available in 155 countries and for every country the AppStore lists the top 300 apps for each of its 43 categories, rankings beyond the top 300 are only for internal purpose. Therefore; there are 11,997,000 possible (visible) positions in the App Store rankings. However, the actual number of all available positions will always be smaller: Micronesia, for example, only lists 4 free news apps instead of 300.

Our database shows that there are currently 6,100,000 actual positions taken by apps. Apple approved data sources indicate that the store currently contains 676,252 available apps. Plenty of room for every app, right? Not quite.

The line between the living and the dead

When comparing the currently available positions to the unique app IDs in our database we discovered that a much smaller amount of apps was actually holding a position. On the 2nd of August 2012, only 307,396 apps were ranked; that is roughly 45% of all the apps available.

Taking into account that an app can enter the lower ranks of a list one day and be knocked off the charts the next. We realized we needed to eliminate daily discrepancies and so defined that an app has to hold a position for at least 7 days to be considered as "ranked". That was the case for 265,959 apps from the 18th of July 2012 to 25th of July 2012. To the remaining 410.023 apps off the ranks, we refer as app zombies, leading a life outside a prospering market.

The meaning of being an app zombie can differ from case to case. Our general conclusion is that an app zombie has hardly any visibility and therefore, does not actively participate in the iOS ecosystem.

Anatomy of an app zombie

Let's specify this conclusion. The invisibility of app zombies arises from two facts: they have no ranking and will most likely be overlooked by the search engine. The reason for that is the way in which Apple's search-algorithm works. Until now, high download numbers are heavily favored in search results. The only way to find these apps is by specific search (look for the exact name of the app) or redirection (external link to the AppStore).

Although, in theory app zombies can still be downloaded, we concluded that an average zombie is getting zero to ten downloads a day, depending on the country. We have verified this with the help of developers and our own AppStore analysis tool, apptrace. On a market, driven by the quantity of users, app zombies are effectively dead, even though they are still moving.

We can think of very few exceptions. It might be possible for an app to be rarely downloaded and yet make a substantial profit because it fits into a niche market which justifies its high prices. Since these zombies don't appear in the grossing ranks, beneficial zombies are very rare.

Conclusion

Looking at the number of app releases every month, the AppStore becomes a more competitive environment. And thus, the army of zombies keeps growing.

Published

August 6, 2012 at 12.00 a.m.