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Checking In With The Big Three App Stores

The state of the three major mobile platforms, as told by their top apps.

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Android, free and paid:

What's Going On Here: Android is the largest smartphone platform by units sold, but has traditionally trailed iOS in terms of app quantity and quality. The last year has, in my experience, closed the gap a lot. There are few apps you can't find on Android, and quality discrepancy — at least on newer phones with up-to-date versions of Android — is far less obvious.

The ecosystem is still a little strange, in part because of the Android Market's strong free-over-paid culture. The free apps column is full of familiar names and marquee brands; a rough survey of the most important apps on any smartphone platform. The free games, however, are mostly either Android native or relatively obscure.

The paid apps selection is distinctly Android. There are some games, but also an array of power user utilities: alternative homescreen widgets, and alternative keyboard, a file manager. One, a backup tool, makes the list despite requiring users to have rooted their handsets. The people paying for apps on Android are its most dedicated users, and the kind of people who like to tinker.

It's most popular paid apps don't only not exist on other platforms — they often couldn't.

iOS (iPhone), Free:

What's Going On Here: Apple's top apps lists are probably the least surprising of the group. Two of these aps are Apple's own, and one (YouTube) is a replacement for app that Apple recently removed. Facebook has rarely left the top ten list since it launched. What iOS has that others don't, though, is a burgeoning native games culture.

Apps two and three are products of that: apps that will likely surface and fade away in a few days to a week, or maybe a month, but not before accumulating hundreds of thousands of users.

iOS, Paid:

What's Going On Here: Games. Bolstered by the iPod Touch, which is arguably primarily a gaming device, iOS's top paid apps is currently and often filled with games, some from well known franchises, others not.

Windows Phone, Free:

What's Going On Here: It's hard to tell, but it doesn't look good. An optimistic take might be that Windows Phone's core feature set is wide enough that many of iOS's most popular apps aren't necessary. But that's unlikely (and Facebook is near the top of the list).

Windows Phone, which I've been using a lot recently, has a serious app quality issue. The duplication of Facebook apps on this list makes a lot of sense — Facebook's official app is unwieldy, while the alternative, an ad-supported wrapper around Facebook's mobile web interface, is in many ways easier to use.

Windows Phone, Paid:

What's Going On Here: A profound lack of volume, apparently. There can't be many people buying apps in the marketplace if the most successful one is a $10 Japanese translation tool.

This suggests that either Windows Phone user numbers are even lower than we thought, or that Windows Phone users don't like to pay for apps. I suspect it's a combination of the two.

Contact John Herrman at

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