Apple’s list of top apps offers insight into mobile web

By Kevin Kelleher
December 10, 2010

Among the year-end lists popping up around the web, one of the most closely watched is Apple’s annual Rewind lists. It’s almost like an awards ceremony for the things we carry around on our mobile devices, and it’s an especially informative proxy for trends that emerged in the burgeoning market for mobile apps.

Unlike previous years, Apple didn’t break out the top-selling games and non-gaming apps into different categories, making comparisons a little tricky. Even so, there are a couple of interesting things to note. For example, the top-selling iPhone games of 2009 were largely from big gaming companies like EA and Gameloft. Four of the top five were from Electronic Arts alone, including the Sims and Madden NFL.

This year, the most popular free apps on the iPhone games were developed inside small gaming companies: Angry Birds was the clear winner: It was the only app that appeared on the iTunes Rewind free and paid lists. The game was developed by Finland-based Rovio, and its distributor Chillingo was bought by Electronic Arts in October, so EA sort of bought its way onto the Rewind list this year.

Following Angry Birds were Lima Sky’s Doodle Jump and Freeverse’s Skee-Ball. Nine of the top ten selling games cost 99 cents, suggesting that the lower-cost apps are delivering on high volumes.

As for top-grossing apps, the list was led by MLB.com’s At Bat 2010, boosted by a substantial upgrade to the features in the app this year. In 2009, turn-by-turn navigation apps were well represented – MobileNavigator North America was the top grosser last year – but this year only Tom Tom USA ranked in the top ten, taking the No. 7 spot.

Also interesting to note was that games didn’t dominate the lists of top iPad apps. Angry Birds HD and Pinball HD were popular, but it seems more people were using productivity apps like Apple’s Pages and Numbers, or media apps like Netflix, Pandora Radio and Kindle. Perhaps the iPad isn’t yet emerging as the killer gaming platform that it first appeared to be.

It’s worthwhile noting what isn’t represented so strongly on the iPhone and iPad lists: location apps and augmented reality, for example – two areas that were expected to be big drivers of app downloads in 2010. Popular apps like Facebook – the iPhones most popular free app in 2010 – use location as a feature, but it’s surprising that apps like Foursquare didn’t make any of the lists.

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