The mobile app industry has been active for over a decade now, generating billions of dollars in revenue for Apple, Google and thousands of mobile app developers.
While originally not perceived as necessary by Apple or Google, which did not add app stores to the first versions of iOS and Android, it has become a key revenue stream for both of them.
Even with less than 15 percent market share, iOS has led the way in revenue generation for app developers. This is partly due to iPhone being more popular in regions with high income, such as Japan and the United States, which also tend to spend more on apps.
In comparison, Google Play’s largest markets are India, South-east Asia and South America, which typically generate less revenue per user. Apple also operates in China, while the Google Play store is banned. Several third-party Android app stores are available in China, and are estimated to generate over $8 billion in yearly revenue.
Both platforms have matured in the past few years, adding new ways for developers to increase revenue generation. These include a multi-purpose advertising platform, in-app purchasing systems and subscription services, all of which is covered in this app market analysis.
Want to learn more about the app store? Read on below to find out more.
App revenue key statistics
- Android and iOS app revenue reached $111 billion revenue in 2020, a 24 percent increase year-on-year. iOS was responsible for 65 percent of total app revenue in 2020
- Games accounted for 71 percent of total app revenue in 2020. iOS generated $47.6 billion revenue in 2020, while Google Play made $31.9 billion
- Outside of games, iOS was responsible for 76 percent of the $32.1 billion revenue created in 2020. Google Play generated $6.7 billion non-gaming revenue in 2020, to iOS’ $24.7 billion
- Subscription revenues increased to $13 billion in 2020, iOS was responsible for 79 percent of revenue
- TikTok was the highest grossing app of 2020 and PUBG Mobile was the highest grossing game
Annual app revenues
App revenue covers all revenue generation inside the two main app stores: iOS and Android. This includes advertising, in-app purchases, subscriptions and app purchases.
Revenue has climbed steadily from 2016 to 2019, but has seen remarkable growth over the past three quarters, an effect of global lockdowns and more time spent indoors.
iOS app revenue
Annual iOS app revenue
|Year||iOS app revenue|
Apple’s App Store, while far behind Android in total users, continues to outperform in revenue generation, despite having less than 15 percent worldwide market share.
iOS is most popular in North America, Japan and the UK, which have higher average revenue per user than countries in which Android is more popular, such as Brazil, India and Spain.
Google Play app revenue
Annual Google Play app revenue
|Year||Google Play app revenue|
Android has seen a 167 percent increase in revenue over four years, which has mostly come in the last two years as developing nations (which Android is most popular in) have started to increase average revenue per user.
We can expect as Google continues to add more features for developers to earn income, the gap between the two platforms will continue to close.
Gaming app revenues
Annual gaming app revenue
|Year||Gaming app revenue|
Games remain the primary form of revenue generation for both iOS and Android, accounting for 72.3 percent of all revenue generation in the third quarter of 2020.
In comparison to apps, games have far more avenues for revenue generation, which include ads, ad-less experiences, in-game cosmetics, pro-versions and gifting. Some games ported from consoles and PC also come with high upfront costs of over $10.
iOS gaming app revenue
Annual iOS gaming app revenue
|Year||iOS gaming app revenue|
Apple’s App Store once again leads the way in revenue generation, beating Android in every quarter.
In a dated YouTube video, Appodeal asked mobile game developers which app store monetises better. Almost everyone said iOS was the better platform for revenue, and this is still the case.
Google Play gaming app revenue
Annual Google Play gaming app revenue
|Year||Google Play gaming app revenue|
For the last two years, Android has generated between 60 t0 70 percent of the revenue of iOS, and Google doesn’t appear to be catching Apple.
Non-gaming app revenues
Annual non-gaming app revenue
|Year||Non-gaming app revenue|
Non-gaming revenue has climbed in the last two years, but face a significant decline after Netflix, Spotify and others stopped offering subscriptions through iOS and Android. This is due to the 30 percent tax Apple and Google both take from any subscription administered over the mobile platforms.
In the past two quarters, revenue has reached the peak levels noticed in Q2 2019. Whether that will continue after the pandemic, we will have to see.
iOS non-gaming app revenue
Annual iOS non-gaming app revenue
|Year||Non-gaming iOS app revenue|
The majority of non-gaming sectors, which run primarily on subscriptions, have their main customer base in the United States. Tinder, Hulu, Pandora, Calm and Strava all have over half of their customer base located in the US.
As iOS is even with Android at 50 percent market share in the US and dominates higher income groups, it is to be expected that most non-gaming revenue generation would come from Apple’s platform.
Google Play non-gaming app revenue
Annual Google Play non-gaming app revenue
|Quarter||Non-gaming Google Play app revenue|
Apple stepped over the $2 billion mark in Q3 2017, Android has still yet to do that.
The challenge for Google is to make subscriptions and other services appealing to customers who may have never subscribed to anything over mobile, which is far more challenging than iOS, which has its main customer base in the US.
Subscription app revenue
|Year||Subscription app revenue|
Subscription revenue has continued to grow year-on-year, despite several setbacks from major apps, such as Netflix, Spotify and Epic Games, removing subscription services from both platforms.
iOS subscription app revenue
|Year||iOS Subscription app revenue|
Apple is once again the leader of revenue generation, although it’s clear the effect Netflix and Spotify removing subscription services at the end of 2018 had on 2019’s growth.
From 2017 to 2018, Apple noticed a 63 percent growth in subscription revenue. From 2018 to 2019, that dropped to 16 percent growth.
Google Play subscription app revenue
|Year||Google Play subscription app revenue|
Google has been adding more tools for subscription services, which has pushed revenue over the $1 billion mark.
App revenue by region
China, Japan and the United States are far ahead of all other countries in terms of app revenue generation, although Taiwan, South Korea and the UK generate over $2 billion each.
App ad-campaign revenue by region
Asia-Pacific will continue to soar ahead of other regions in app ad campaign revenue, due to China’s ballooning advertising industry on games and Japan’s strong app ad economy. While LATAM is a smaller market than EMEA and North America, it is expected to grow at a faster rate than both, due to Brazil and Mexico’s burgeoning app ad economy.
Top app by consumer spend
|Q4 2017||Tinder||Netflix||Tencent Video|
|Q1 2018||Netflix||Tinder||Tencent Video|
|Q2 2018||Netflix||Tinder||Tencent Video|
|Q3 2018||Netflix||Tinder||Tencent Video|
|Q4 2018||Netflix||Tinder||Tencent Video|
|Q1 2019||Tinder||Netflix||Tencent Video|
|Q4 2019||Tinder||Tencent Video||Netflix|
Sources: App Annie, Sensor Tower
Top gaming app by consumer spend
|Q1 2017||Monster Strike||Fate/Grand Order||Game of War|
|Q2 2017||Monster Strike||Clash Royale||Honor of Kings|
|Q3 2017||Monster Strike||Honor of Kings||Fate/Grand Order|
|Q4 2017||Honor of Kings||Monster Strike||Fate/Grand Order|
|Q1 2018||Honor of Kings||Monster Strike||Fate/Grand Order|
|Q2 2018||Honor of Kings||Monster Strike||Fate/Grand Order|
|Q3 2018||Honor of Kings||Monster Strike||Fate/Grand Order|
|Q4 2018||Honor of Kings||Monster Strike||Fate/Grand Order|
|Q1 2019||Honor of Kings||Fate/Grand Order||Monster Strike|
|Q2 2019||Honor of Kings||PUBG Mobile||Fate/Grand Order|
|Q3 2019||PUBG Mobile||Honor of Kings||Fate/Grand Order|
|Q4 2019||PUBG Mobile||Honor of Kings||Candy Crush Saga|
|Q1 2020||PUBG Mobile||Honor of Kings||Monster Strike|
|Q2 2020||PUBG Mobile||Honor of Kings||Monster Strike|
|Q3 2020||Honor of Kings||PUBG Mobile||Pokemon Go|
|Q2 2020||Arena of Valor*||PUBG Mobile||Pokemon Go|
Sources: App Annie, Sensor Tower
* Arena of Valor is Honor of Kings, Tencent changed the name at international launch.
App revenue other key stats
- App revenue hit $28.9 billion in Q3 2020, an 80 percent increase year-on-year
- Apple’s iOS dominates revenue generation, despite having less than 15 percent global market share. It generated $18.6 billion in Q3 2020, to Google Play’s $10.3 billion
- South Korea and Japan saw the highest average revenue per user (App Annie)
- China accounts for almost 40 percent of all app revenue (Forbes)
- The UK has the highest average revenue per user in Europe, followed by Germany (App Annie)
- 140 mobile games generated over $100 million in 2019, and over 1100 games generated over $5 million (App Annie)
- Netflix held the top spot for gross revenue until it pulled subscription services off iOS and Android at the end of 2018 (The Verge), at the time it was generating over $1 billion in iOS and Android subscriptions (9to5mac), taking approximately $100 to $220 million away from Apple and Google
- PUGB Mobile, Honor of Kings, Pokemon Go, Coin Master and Roblox are the five games in 2020 which generated over $1 billion (Sensor Tower)
- Honor of Kings, a League of Legends clone for China built by Tencent, was the top grossing app for all of 2018 and most of 2019 (Sensor Tower, App Annie)
- Pokemon Go has generated $4 billion in total revenue, with $1 billion in 2020 alone (Sensor Tower)
- Disney+ generated $285 million in in-app purchase revenue since launch, surpassing Netflix and Amazon Prime Video (Apptopia)
- Apple’s recent cutback of revenue share from 30 to 15 percent for smaller developers (The Verge) won’t affect them too much, as revenue from publishers generating under $1 million only accounts for two percent of the iOS App Store’s revenue (Sensor Tower)
- Sapio research reported in October 2018 that 77% of brands are planning to invest in in-app advertising; foreseeing an improvement in campaign ROI of 41%
- A February 2019 study from PubMatic found that 56% of media buyers believed in-app advertising delivered better audience targeting than other forms of advertising, with 54% saying they saw better customer engagement