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Disposable downloads: 26 percent of apps only get used once

One of the biggest selling points of a smartphone is the access to apps – those small downloadable programs that can give us everything from driving directions to the best-selling Angry Birds video game. Apple made apps a focal point of its TV commercials for the original iPhone, providing us with the memorable tag line “There’s an app for that!”

There are now over 300,000 apps in Apple’s App Store, although you would need many months to browse iTunes and find out what they all do. Google’s Android Market is quickly catching up (200,000 and counting), while RIM (BlackBerry) and Microsoft (Windows phones) are trying hard to stay in the game.

The apparent popularity of apps makes the results of a recent study by analytics firm Localytics all the more surprising. While smartphone and iPad owners are downloading apps at an astonishing rate (Apple just reached the 10 billion mark), 26 percent of the time the app only ever gets used once. That’s right – one quarter of all apps get downloaded, tried once, and effectively discarded.

Localytics looked at thousands of apps across every major mobile platform using its analytical software. It also found that one-time app use was on the rise: in the first quarter of 2010 it was around 22 percent but finished the year at 28 percent. The number is expected to further increase, as smartphones continue to take a bigger share of the overall cell phone market.

Of course, from an app developer’s standpoint, the download is the important act; in the case of paid apps, that’s when the customer gets billed and that’s when the developer gets to book the revenue. However, it doesn’t say much for the overall quality of the app marketplace if more than 1 in 4 purchases are rejected after just one look.

All this points to an eventual shake-out of the app market, but don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. Research firm Gartner Inc. believes the app market will grow by 1000% through 2014 and hit revenues of $58 billion. With that kind of growth, there is plenty of room for a few casualties along the way.

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