iTunes app total downloads (finally) overtook song downloads

It was only a few weeks ago (at WWDC) that we had an update on the app store growth rates. The data was presented here.

One of the data points from the event was that iTunes hit 15 billion song downloads. Last week we heard that iTunes also hit 15 billion app downloads.

The milestones were reached within less than a month so it’s a fairly safe assumption that apps have overtaken songs. I had originally guessed that the cross-over would take place at 13 billion at the end of 2010.

The actual performance is shown below (total downloads indexed to same starting date):

The 15 billion app threshold was passed within exactly three years while the 15 billion song threshold was passed in six years and 10 months. Shown on the actual time scale, the chart looks as follows:

Download rates for songs had a minor rebound in the last six months.

The app download rate is now at least 31 million per day while the song download rate is about 12 million per month. Including books (but excluding video content), the App Store in now delivering at least 44 million new content downloads per month.

My prediction of cross-over was off by seven months. This was due to three factors:

  1. Song downloads increased unexpectedly. There was a rebound in the last six months where daily downloads went from about 8m/day to about 12m/day which is a new high. I had expected download rates to have peaked mid 2010.
  2. App download rates proved to be more volatile than expected. As the last chart above shows, the download rates fluctuate quite a bit. The 4-period trend line is a bit more stable, but there are kinks.
  3. Polynomial curve fitting is always sensitive.

When dealing with polynomial growth, predictions can be very dangerous. Nevertheless, I think the overall performance of the App Store is phenomenal.


  • Asymco fails to factor in the "Lady Gaga" effect!

    • asymco

      Or the Beatles.

  • Luis Masanti

    This is interesting but non-necessary valuable, for several reasons.
    It feels like the old times of comparing CPU's MHz in a PowerPC or Intel processor.

    Songs are almost all paid (except the free dailies) and roughly of the same file size.
    Apps are like 80-90% free and bigger than a song, in most of the cases.

    So, what kind of conclusions can we take from this?
    But I'm with Horace: We must try –almost– everything!

    • FalKirk

      "This is interesting but non-necessary valuable"-Luis Masanti

      I'll go the other way and say that this is extremely valuable. Songs have been with us since the dawn of time. They've been available for sale since, what, the thirties? Digital songs have been around for about 20 years and took off with the advent of iTunes.

      Applications have been with us since the 70's. Although digital distribution was possible prior to the App Store, its fair to say that it was in the Cro-Magnon stage (or earlier). Since the introduction of the App Store – and not even counting the billions of Apps that have been sold through copycat digital stores – the App has rocketed from the province of the Geeks to the King of Content.

      People navigate the web using Apps. People navigate the world using Apps. People communicate using Apps. People read using Apps. People watch movies and TV using Apps. People create using Apps. People work using Apps. People play using Apps.

      The King is dead. All hail Apps, the new King of Content.

    • asymco

      What is interesting is up to everyone to consider and judge. I would say that what is interesting to me is that apps are quickly emerging as a new medium which by the sheer volume of consumption and creation is likely to swamp other media. This creates a virtuous cycle attracting talent and passion leading to more innovation and invention. The consequences are likely to be highly disruptive to any and all business models depending on the creative process.

      We only have these filaments of data to let us imagine what will be. They may be thin, but they spin a powerful web.

      • MontRothstein

        Insightful as always. It would be fascinating to see the downloads from start month graph adjusted for average selling price.

      • EWPellegrino

        It seems like the $1 App is a completely new form of entertainment, I don't mean the fact that people are buying cheap games – I mean that people are buying cheap productivity Apps and finding it fun to play with them, integrate them into their lives or ditch them.

        It's an unprecedented burst of consumer curiosity – that seems to be fueled by the combination of low prices and relative safety from malware.

      • Yeah when that ability to see what apps you'd previously 'brought' came to the iPhone and iPad, I was amazed to see that I owned around 500 apps. I would much rather spend $1 on an app than a song.

      • guest

        Please state how this is possible? In one part you state, " The app download rate is now at least 31 million per day while the song download rate is about 12 million per month" and in another you state that "Song downloads increased unexpectedly. There was a rebound in the last six months where daily downloads went from about 8m/day to about 12m/day which is a new high. I had expected download rates to have peaked mid 2010." Did you mean 12 million per day?

      • asymco

        Yes, all figures are per day.

  • Eric D.

    Is Apple counting books as app downloads? Wouldn't they fall into a media column with movies, songs and… audio books?

    • asymco

      Apple is not counting ebooks sold through the iBooks platform as apps. There are however many apps which are books.

      The definition of "app" is simply something that is sold through the iTunes App Store. Songs are tracks sold through the iTunes Music Store.

  • I suppose that in going for PopCap, EA had a similar idea: the game as app, vs the game as a major expense, often bundled with purchase of an XBox or similar, is the future.

    I imagine EA could shift its existing game packaging from complex, multiple-level, long-term bundles, to more granular titles resembling separate purchases for each level or stage. Give away the razor and sell the blades.

    I'm tantalized by the idea that there may be something for Apple to take away from this, too: more emphasis on making it easier and less risky for developers to get their games quickly and profitably on iOS, ways that speed repeat purchases, subscriptions, credits or discounts for “tell a friend” references, who knows what else that emphasizes the engagement from high-quality games on iOS.

  • SamLowry

    a comparison of revenue would be interesting, if data is available.
    iBooks should look much better on that metric.

  • smartblur

    It could be as simple as the fact that sales of music on iTunes is still severely restricted in regions outside of the USA, whereas the availability of apps on the App Store is closer to parity worldwide, especially with the ease of obtaining a 'free' iTunes USA account specifically for the downloading of free apps not found in local App Stores. In Singapore, the biggest telco is still pushing for their own jukebox app and in-app song purchases on the iPhone… without much success.

  • Iosweekly

    I think the reaccelerating song downloads is due to the rapid growth of portable iOS devices. Before iOS, you had to make your iTunes purchases when you were sitting at your computer, you couldn't buy impulsively directly from your iPod.

    Now, wherever you are you can easily purchase any song on your iPhone. I do it all the time with the shazam app when I hear a song I like playing, I look it up instantly and buy it. I rarely, if ever, remember doing that when I only had a iPod. By the time I had got back to my computer I would have forgotten all about whatever song I had once heard.

  • I think a critical data point was overlooked here, and that is accessibility to purchase. Six years ago the only way to purchase a song was via iTunes, via a desktop computer. Today songs (and apps) are available for purchase directly on the devices.

    I would not draw the conclusion that apps are “more popular” due to their exciting rate of growth, but rather factor in and acknowledge their success is due in part to behavior change in the market.

    People are just more familiar with purchasing “software” (by which I mean songs, apps, books, etc.) with each passing day, and it’s becoming easier and easier for them to do so.

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  • JonathanU

    Horace – I think you might be slightly missing the point. Apps and songs are at completely different pricing points. Songs are $1.29 whilst apps range in price from free to $1,000's etc.

    Microeconomic theory states that when supply is infinite (as it is with the app store, the marginal cost of bandwith for sending apps to various devices is next to 0) and the price of a good is nothing, then demand will be infinite (or tend to infinity, the demand curve is asymptotic as it can't quite reach infinity).

    Surely it is to be expected that app downloads will explode, given the majority of them are free? The download rate must then surely be a function of the number of devices in circulation?

    • asymco

      The download rate per device is also increasing (currently 75 apps for every iOS device sold). But my point is precisely what you point out: "it's not fair". Apps compete asymmetrically with other forms of media. Free is exactly the point. It is disruptive. It swamps and smothers competition. It does it while being ignored because it does not fit the economic definition of the market.

      Music companies (and others in their value chain) are motivated to ignore apps as a threat. A side-by-side comparison may help uncover this, however, as you point out, macroeconomic theory compels one to ignore the data.

    • With something like 200 apps, I guess I help prove your point. But they are NOT free; the couple of clicks to download them count for something, and I have had to start cutting back on my photo library and have always pared my music collection to get them all to fit.

      Then there's updates. 4 this AM, two of which for apps that I haven't used in a while. It all takes time, not the least for passwords age-restricted material alerts, etc.

  • Param

    Can you publish the graph excluding free app downloads and free song downloads.

  • Pieter

    When the App Store was launched I thought that it will provide an opportunity to Apple to tap into some of the best and most innovative brains around the world. I thought that some of best Apps will in some form or other be incorporated into the OS. My question is whether this has taken place?

    • asymco

      iOS 5 has many features pioneered by apps (eg. Instapaper.)

  • Even for a head-to-head $1.29 app vs $1.29 tune, the value proposition seems heavily skewed towards the app.

    You might play a simple game a couple of hours, being fully engaged, while you might actively listen to a song a half dozen times before it ends up as audio wallpaper, mostly unnoticed.

    Yes there are apps such as photo-to-cartoon gadgets that you'll only use 15 minutes, total. But on the other extreme there's Pandora, SiriusXM. Or the mobile Bloomberg that I use a couple of times a week to stay on top of my work.

    Apps have incredible potential vis-à-vis music. This says a lot about apps vs browser-based solutions, too.

  • zmarc

    Am I misunderstanding your math? How can downloads be a piddly 31 million a month if we’ve hit 15 billion in 36 months? That’s more like 400,000,000 per month!

    Did you mean 31mil per day?

    • Horace seems to have mixed up the units in that section of the article. The chart seems to show 12m songs downloaded daily (12000 in the vertical scale which is in 000's of downloads), while the article states a similar number per month.

      Interesting analysis. Where do you get the figures for the download rates, Horace? Are they just averaged from Apple's public announcements?

    • asymco

      Sorry, that should say per day.

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  • Anthony Perez-sanz

    Could iCloudy attention and the resulting removal of download restrictions on music be partly causing the increase?

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  • So?

    Is it meaningful to compare song downloads vs app downloads from iTunes? You can download/stream song from a million places on the internet to your iOS device but for apps there is only iTunes.

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