“Accepted wisdom and research tells us that iOS makes more money than Google Play, despite Google Play having more downloads. Nobody would argue with that. But what about iOS vs Android at a global level? Include the massive Chinese Android app stores, and Android didn’t just dominate download volumes, it made more money than iOS last year.

Apple and Google dominate app store downloads in most markets, but many folks outside China aren’t familiar with the dynamics of that amazing market. So it’s not surprising that mind share since 2007 has been mainly about the differences between iOS and Google Play, with the occasional nod to Amazon, Microsoft and others.

Apple and Google took very different approaches to China. Apple embraced China with spectacular success, but Google ultimately exited. Together with China’s inherent strengths and business dynamics, the Chinese app ecosystem now looks fundamentally different to all other markets. There are not just two dominant app stores, but five major groups (and other smaller ones).


Baidu, Apple, Qihoo 360, Tencent, Wandoujia (and others) compete for the largest download market in the world. The competition in China puts both iOS and Google Play in the minority of app downloads globally.

Dominating downloads is great, but downloads can be a vanity metric if they aren’t backed up by corresponding revenue. Analyzing revenue data and research across global app stores (including China) changes the picture from iOS versus Google Play, to iOS versus Android.

So where iOS generates the most revenue of any one individual app store globally (followed by Google Play and Chinese Android), all Android app stores combined passed iOS revenue at a global level for the first time in 2014. In other words, iOS made less money than Android last year. And that’s a big deal.

iOS is a Value market, generating far more revenue per download than other app stores. iOS apps with relatively lower numbers of downloads compared to Android generate significant revenue. Despite the dominance of free apps, even paid apps can make a decent living on iOS.

Google Play is a hybrid Value-Volume market, with apps needing well over twice the download volumes on average compared to iOS to make the same revenue. Google Play is a great place to operate, but the long term trend of lower revenue value per download compared to iOS seems set to continue. If developers can hit high download numbers, there is good monetization to be had on Google Play.

The Chinese Android app stores (Baidu, Qihoo 360, Tencent, Wandoujia, others) are true Volume markets. Apps in China must hit more than eight times the number of downloads on average compared to iOS to make the same amount of money. It is worth noting this analyzes Chinese Android versus iOS globally, not iOS in China specifically. The Volume nature of Chinese Android app stores shows how distribution relationships are critical, as without massive downloads the Chinese market is challenging. But hit it big in China, and the streets are lined with golden cats and red envelopes (for good fortune).

Apple had the highest smartphone marketshare in China in Q1 in terms of sales, so the balance between iOS and Android could change yet again by the end of 2015. Google’s absence from China highlights the challenges of competing at a global level without scale in the world’s largest mobile market. And Chinese giants? Competition at the domestic level consumes significant resources today, but only time stands between them and global success.

You can read the full (paid) analysis over here.

The information is coming from Tim Merel who is managing director of San Francisco mobile internet advisory firm Digi-Capital.