10,000 iPhone Apps – How Many Are Good?

Josh Catone

The App Store for Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch devices that launched in July today has over 10,000 applications. Any way you look at it, the App Store has been a resounding success for Apple. The company was doing a million dollars per day in sales over the first thirty days — about a third of which it kept — and some analysts have predicted that the App Store will be a billion dollar business for Apple by next year. Indeed, Google, RIM, and Microsoft have each emulated Apple’s distribution method with their own application download stores for mobile and desktop platforms.

The willingness of users to pay for applications released on the App Store has made the iPhone an attractive development platform for programmers. We wrote in August that many developers are now making a living selling applications, especially if they can keep their costs of living down. The Inside iPhone blog reported last week that full-time contract developers are making $5,000 per week writing applications for the iPhone — that’s a quarter million dollars per year.

But how many of those iPhone applications are worth your time? With so many vying for attention, how does one sort out the fluff from the worthwhile apps?

The comparison with the Facebook platform is unavoidable. Though there are clearly many differences (iPhone developers can charge for apps, for example, and iPhone users, since they paid for the phone and monthly service, are likely more willing on the whole to pay for apps), there are also similarities, so the comparison is warranted. Even though the iPhone’s platform has just about a fifth of the total number of applications on the Facebook platform, now up over 48,000 apps, we started to see reports of application fatigue on Facebook last January when the platform had just 15,000 apps.

As more and more developers flock to these platforms to try to make a quick buck, the noise level inevitably rises. We’re seeing it on Facebook, where the number of apps continues to grow steadily, but user engagement has leveled off. Will the same thing happen on the iPhone?

We actually may already be seeing the beginnings of that. About a third of the applications on the iPhone platform are in the Games or Entertainment categories, according to 148Apps.com. On Facebook, those categories are generally code for “fluff” apps. The iPhone is now being marketed as a game platform, so the Games category likely doesn’t mean poorly made apps as often as it does on Facebook, but coupled with the fact that most apps sit below the $1.99 price point it seems plausible that noise on the iPhone platform is on the rise.

Compete recently surveyed smartphone users and found that 93% of users have added an application from the App Store, with 45% having added more than 11 apps. It will be interesting to see how that number changes. Hopefully Compete will do follow up surveys to see how many of those apps people are still using 3 or 6 months from now.

Because the App Store’s Top 100 List — which drives a huge number of sales on the platform — is based on number of apps sold per day, the price of successful applications has been consistently driven lower since Apple launched the store in July. That might be having a negative effect on quality as developers may now be more inclined to spread their development time over a number of cheaper apps, rather than spending more time developing a more expensive (and more well-made and useful) application that is less likely to sell well.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you find the noise levels in the App Store too high? Is it easy to sort out the good apps from the bad or is he iPhone App Store heading the way of Facebook’s platform? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to check out our list of 5 must have productivity apps for the iPhone.