The New Global App Market

February 21, 2013
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Mary Ellen Gordon, PhD
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Flurry recently revealed that China’s installed base of smartphones and tablets surpassed that of the United States. Further, two thirds of all app sessions now occur outside the United States. With the app market becoming increasingly international, developers need to better understand how app consumer behavior varies across different countries to remain competitive.

This report focuses on how the top 30 heaviest app using countries vary in terms of app usage. As developers build apps for the largest international markets, they need to consider deviating from what has worked in the United States, the former number one market. Can developers simply localize for different markets, or are there meaningful cultural differences in app usage to consider? How different is behavior in China and India, the world’s two most populous countries?

For this study, Flurry grouped countries according to their similarity in app category usage using cluster analysis. Cluster analysis is a statistical technique that creates groupings based on associations; in this case, among the proportions of app users who use different categories of apps. This technique controlled for differences in populations, device penetration rates and app store taxonomies. We ran this analysis for the top 20,000 apps in the 30 heaviest app using countries as of January 2013. For purposes of this report, we focus on app categories used by at least 5% of app users in at least one country cluster. We also excluded social networking, since use of those apps tends to be more country-specific.

Membership in the resulting country clusters are discussed next, followed by a description of some of the differences in app engagement across country clusters.

The cluster analysis process produced six country groupings shown in the map below and the country list that follows.

The App Map

As shown in the map above, the first group of countries in blue is made up of countries that tended to be early adopters of mobile technologies.

The second category, in purple, is comprised of the most hyper-connected parts of Asia: South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

China and Japan had app usage patterns that were unique to them, making each country its own cluster.

Most of the countries in green are neighbors in South East Asia; however, app usage patterns across the Pacific in Mexico also put it in that same category.

The final category, in yellow, includes many large countries, such as Brazil, Russia and India as well as smaller but influential countries such as Switzerland and Israel. Besides sharing similarities in app usage, these countries tend to have lagged behind the Mobile Pioneer and Connected Asia countries in adopting mobile technologies.

Countries shown in gray were not included in the analysis because they are not among the 30 heaviest app using countries.

The chart below shows the proportion of app users who used apps within each of the gaming categories shown, as defined in Google Play, during January 2013.

Cluster Analysis Android Game Apps by Country

Overall, games are the most-used types of apps in each country cluster, with the biggest Android game category being Arcade and Action games for all country clusters. While Android game categories follow a similar rank ordering across country clusters, there is clear variation between clusters. For example, compared to app users in Japan, almost twice the proportion of app users in the Equatorial Pacific country cluster use Android Arcade and Action games. And while countries in the Mobile Pioneers’ cluster are among the most enthusiastic users of Casual Games and Brain and Puzzle Games, they are less enthusiastic users of Arcade and Action games compared to those in most other country clusters. 

Cluster Analysis Games Apps on iOS by Country

Once again, note that the main Games category attracts a large proportion of people who use any iOS apps, and that the Equatorial Pacific has the greatest proportion of users and Japan has the least though the differences are not as great for iOS as they are for Android. It’s interesting to note that while Japan tends to lag the other country clusters in the proportion of device users engaging with most game app categories, the country that gave us karaoke leads in the proportion of app users who use iOS Music Games.

While Japanese app users are disproportionately unlikely to play most types of games (with the exception of music, as noted above), they are disproportionately likely to use productivity and utility apps. Chinese app users are also disproportionately heavy users of these more functional types of apps.

Cluster Analysis Productivity and Tools Apps on iOS and Android 

Hobbies often associated with Japan came through in app usage for music games, and also in use of lifestyle-oriented apps in terms of Japanese enthusiasm for photography. Japanese device owners are more likely than device owners in other country clusters to engage with photography apps on both iOS and Android devices. Entertainment categories within both app stores are fairly broad so it’s not entirely clear why, but those from China and the Lumbering Giant country clusters are disproportionately heavy users of Entertainment apps on both of the major mobile operating systems. 

While this analysis only scratches the surface of variation in usage of 20,000 apps across more than 800 million devices being used in 30 different countries, it shows systematic variation across country clusters even at a high level. This has important implications considering the great potential for growth of connected devices and app use in countries and country groupings such as China and the Lumbering Giants, given their large populations and relatively low current rate of device penetration. App usage patterns in those places don’t always mirror those in Mobile Pioneer countries, which up until now have been the source of a lot of app development. For example, productivity and utility apps are more popular in China and Japan than they are in the United States. Differences such as these suggest that app developers in Mobile Pioneer countries may need to give greater consideration to the usage patterns and preferences of those in other countries or else that we may see growing app developer communities in some of those other countries.