Don't you just love free apps?

Of the thousands of downloadable free applications on Android Market, only 96 titles are favorites of millions of Android users worldwide. This was one of the major findings in a recent study conducted by Distimo.

In its report “In-Depth View on Download Volumes in the Google Android Market,” Distimo also found that the Google Maps app is the Android world’s all-time favorite with over 50 million downloads from the Android Market.

Proportion of Free Applications Per Download Tier

51.8% of free apps were downloaded less than 1,000 times. The other 48.2% of free apps were downloaded at least 1,000 times. Only 1.0% of free apps were downloaded at least half a million times. Of the 1.0% in the 500,000+ tier, Distimo found that:

  • 69 free apps have been installed between 5 and 10 million times
  • 26 free apps have been installed between 10 and 50 million times
  • only 1 free app enjoyed more than 50 million downloads: Google Maps

In contrast, for the same period covered in Distimo’s study, 95.4% of paid applications were downloaded less than 1,000 times from Android Market, and only 4.6% were downloaded more than 1,000 times. Only a very tiny portion of paid apps, 0.1%, were downloaded at least 50 thousand times.

Proportion of Paid Applications Per Download Tier

Distimo’s report (covering April 1 to May 19 download stats) suggests that Android users tend to favor free applications. We’ve reconstructed Distimo’s charts into table form to show the comparison much clearly between free and non-free app download volumes:

Download Tier Free Apps (%) Paid Apps (%)
more than 50,000 6.6 0.1
1,000 to 49,999 41.6 4.5
100 to 999 32.2 16.1
less than 100 19.6 79.3

According to Distimo’s analysis, Android app developers seem to find the one-time fee monetization scheme not a very juicy source of profit. Moreover, Distimo believes that the very small income stream from the one-time fee model is a possible reason that developers resort to in-app advertising. Distimo’s analysis reveals that Android app developers seem to be struggling with monetizing their apps through the Android Market.

On the surface, Distimo’s study paints a very bleak picture of profitability in the Android Market. It’s about half an inch short of suggesting that Android app developers go elsewhere where the money is greener.

That is a very likely possibility, if you ask me, especially when you think of profit-driven app developers, of which there are several in the Android universe. Viewed through the eyes of profit, yes, Distimo’s report is a rather disparaging picture for developers, and if I were profit-oriented developer, I’ll definitely not try stepping into such a gray world.

But, the fact is that not all Android app developers work at the compulsion of the cash register. A lot of Android app developers are still producing apps in the spirit of opensource–which, although not closed to the possibility of earning profit, does not place profit on a high pedestal for developers to worship and lay down their lives for.

Yet, in a Darwinian world where even passionate Android app developers have to put food on their tables, the prospect of earning income is something realistically achievable, and Google is very much willing to help in that department. Google has started putting in place a tighter system that I believe may avert mass migration of developers. For instance, Google has implemented, in the last three months, ways for Android Market users to pay more easily and, thereby, increase profitability for Android apps developers–In-App Billing and Direct Carrier Billing.

Google has also modified Android Market’s front shelves a bit to address the issue of app exposure. Visibility in the top charts often also translates to more downloads and installations, and more income for paid apps that make it to the top charts. Android Market currently shows the following sections on its storefront:

  • Top Paid Apps
  • Top Free Apps
  • Top Grossing Apps
  • Top New Paid Apps
  • Top Free Apps
  • Featured Apps
  • Editors’ Choice
  • Trending Apps
  • Best-Selling Games

The huge number of free apps on the Android Market is one of Android’s greatest strengths, and the neglect on paid apps may, at this time, be considered one of its weak spots. But, the latter is going to definitely change, especially with Google’s and others’ efforts to assist Android’s paid-apps market in reaching its potential in the coming months.

Thousands of apps on the Android Market are free–and you do love free stuff (as do millions of others), don’t you? Some of those apps are gratis (i.e., “free beer”), others are libre (i.e., “free speech”). Ever wondered why they number by the thousands even though their developers don’t get a single cent, or, if ever, only earn very little from developing those apps?