Consumer spending during the holiday retail season, beginning with Black Friday, is among the most important predictors of U.S. economic health. Since the late 90s, tracking online sales of websites like amazon.com on the first Monday after Thanksgiving, Cyber Monday, has become a second important barometer. The National Retail Federation, the world’s leading retail trade group, extrapolated that total spending for this year’s Black Friday “weekend,” Thursday-to-Sunday, was up 0.5% from a year ago. Additionally, Lazard Capital reported Cyber Monday sales were up strongly over last year, by 35%.
As we enter the holiday season, downloads in the iPhone App Store can also serve as an indicator of consumer spending. While App Store sales are small relative to online and retail, Apple’s September announcement that the App Store surpassed two billion downloads demonstrates how quickly this digital market is growing, having doubled in just the last four months. Further, according to Admob, the App Store is already generating over one billion USD in annual sales. Finally, the iPhone OS installed base, which sold more than 12 million units world-wide for the quarter ending September 2009, is reaching meaningful critical mass. Flurry estimates that, life-to-date, more than 34 million iPhone and iPod Touch devices have been sold in the U.S. through the end of September 2009. This equates to roughly 10% of the U.S. population.
Monitoring application downloads tracked by Flurry over the last six months, we observe strong patterns of seasonality and an aggressive ramp toward the holiday season. Note that because the iPhone installed base grew so dramatically between last year and this year, we have selected a time series trend analysis versus a year-over-year comparison. The chart below reveals three phases: first, strong summer downloads; second, a dip in September Flurry attributes to back-to-school; and third, strong growth over October and November leading up to the holidays. Specifically, October downloads exceeded September by 30%, and November further grew over October by an additional 16%.
Historically, the week after Christmas has been the strongest for data downloads to mobile phones, since consumers load up after receiving new handsets as holiday gifts. With download growth at its current rate, Flurry predicts that December downloads will exceed November by at least 20%, making it a strong season for Apple.