Location-Aware Apps On The Rise, But Many Are Cookie-Cutter ‘Bulk Apps,’ Report Finds

7/15/09Follow @wroush

Not surprisingly, given the rush among handset makers and software developers to cash in on the mobile-software explosion, there’s a been a big uptick in the availability of mobile apps that make use of location information, according to a report published today by Boston’s Skyhook Wireless. That’s true not just for the Apple iPhone, but for Android, Blackberry, Palm, and Nokia phones as well, the company found. But a big chunk of the applications are what Skyhook is calling “bulk apps”—identical templates that publishers fill with varying information, such as travel guides to hundreds of world cities.

As many as a third of all of the location-aware apps in Apple’s iTunes App Store, the company’s catalog of iPhone applications, are mass-produced in this way, Skyhook found. A single developer, Molinker, sells more than 850 travel-related bulk apps. The cornucopia of apps piling up in the various application stores, in other words, may not be quite as rich as it looks.

“There are over 50,000 [Apple] App Store apps, and this massive number is often referenced as a sign of the tremendous growth of the App Store,” Skyhook said in a press release accompanying the report. “But, it is important to understand that bulk apps make up much of this volume.”

Skyhook posted the survey of location-based applications today on its blog Location Revolution. The company studies the spread of location-aware mobile applications because it makes the underlying location-finding software built into many mobile devices, including the iPhone.

Skyhook surveyed both the numbers and prices of applications emerging in the iTunes App Store, the Android marketplace, Blackberry App World, Nokia’s Ovi Store, and the Palm App Catalog. A handful of apps are priced at $6 to $9, with navigation or sports-related apps sometimes selling for even more. But the most common price for location-enabled apps is $0.99, the company found—and hundreds of new apps were released at this price in the first half of 2009, thanks to the bulk app phenomenon.

“The release of bulk apps is a monetization strategy,” Kate Imbach, Skyhook’s director of marketing and developer programs, said in the company’s release. As developers look for various ways to make money on mobile applications, creating hundreds of variations on a single low-cost app may be an alternative to hitting the jackpot with a single killer app, Imbach observed. “As developers experiment with these strategies, it will be interesting to see if bulk apps gain traction,” she said.

Here are a few of the Skyhook report’s other interesting tidbits, broken down by device type:

Android

There are 4,000 apps in the Android Marketplace, and about 400 of them are location-aware. One-quarter of the apps are paid, with an average price of $1. Travel and shopping apps are the most popular varieties of location-enabled applications.

Apple iPhone/iPod Touch

Of the 50,000 applications in the iTunes App Store, 2,800 are location-aware. About 77 percent of these apps are paid, with the average price being $3.47. Navigation and news-and-weather apps are the fastest-growing categories of location-based applications in the App Store.

Blackberry

The Blackberry App World, which debuted in April, offers 79 location-aware applications, 57 percent of which are paid, with the average price at a surprisingly high $11.70. Travel and navigation apps are the most popular categories of location-aware apps among Blackbery users.

Nokia

Nokia’s Ovi store, launched in May, contains 23 location-aware apps, 43 percent of which are paid, with an average price of $3.11. “Nokia’s Ovi Store has the smallest ratio of [location-based] apps to total apps,” Skyhook noted in the report. “Only 2 percent of Ovi apps use location. This is surprising considering Nokia’s demonstrated interest and massive financial commitment to the location space, including the $8.1 billion acquisition of Navteq.”

Palm

The Palm App Catalog, launched in June with the release of the Palm Pre smartphone, includes nine location-aware applications, all free, with entertainment apps and lifestyle apps as the most popular.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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