Downloads for the top 200 free apps in the U.S. iTunes app store took a 30 percent dive in March, according to Fiksu, a Charles River Ventures-backed company that helps mobile developers find users cheaply.
The culprit? Two things. One is that we’re just coming out of the very lucrative holiday season, when downloads spike and people get new phones that they’re eager to experiment with through trying tons of apps. The other may be Apple’s crackdown on download bots, or automated programs that downloads apps tens of thousands of times to help them break into the top of the charts.
Fiksu says that the top 200 free U.S. iPhone apps saw 4.45 million downloads per day in March, down from 6.35 million per day in February. Apple issued a warning to developers during the first week of February, telling them not to use services that explicitly manipulate the charts.
“An unexpected contributing factor could be the decline in the use of robotic install tactics by app marketers responding to Apple’s new policy,” said Fiksu’s chief executive Micah Adler in a statement.
The crackdown has had huge implications for the types of apps that make it to the top of the charts. If you watched the charts like I did for well over a year, it was pretty common to see really strange, esoteric (and frankly, not very well-made) apps pop on the charts every single week. At the same time, very social, more utility-like apps like Instagram or Facebook would hover in the teens or twenties — or between #50 and 100.
The decline of download bots has made room for apps like Viddy, Socialcam, Instagram and Draw Something to move higher on the charts. Plus, because of the way the Apple app store is designed, once an app breaks above #25 or #10, it gets a huge increase in downloads per day.
Even despite the decline, the amount developers have to pay to get a good mobile app user was relatively unchanged at $1.30 from $1.31 in February. By good user, we mean one that opens an app at least three times after they downloaded it.